Jacob Banks has a powerful, bluesy voice that takes front and center when he sings. He is a man you could count on alternatively to plead your case to a lover or to put your enemies on notice.
The musician from Birmingham, England, defies easy categorization. Although he’s certainly a soul singer dabbling in hip hop, his giant voice floats on top of any backing instrumentation, putting his vocals forward in a manner characteristic of trip hop artists.
Visiting Rock and Roll Hotel on Friday to open for Swedish performer LÉON, Jacob sang about nine crisp songs, winning over the audience with that enormous voice. (Read our Parklife DC review of LÉON.) He often sings of loss and rejection, such as with “Monster,” a declaration by the narrator that he will be as bad as people label him. “Oh, you won’t see me when I’m coming/I’ll be that monster you’ve been wanting, oh no,” he sings.
When Jacob sings, he sings with passion. He flows into the microphone, alternatively pleading or snarling. The backing beats of “Monster” also harken to African rhythms suggestive of his birthplace in Nigeria.
“Monster” certainly smacks more of anger than sadness, although the implication of being misunderstood is present throughout the song. By contrast later in the set, “Unknown” is completely full of regret for past transgressions. Jacob sings wistfully of rejection and heartache, all of which is deserved in the song, and it’s very powerful. At Rock and Roll Hotel, the sound of his plaintive voice hushes gathering sold-out crowd into stunned silence.
Watch a live performance of “Unknown” by Jacob Banks for Mahogany Sessions on Feb. 20, 2015:
Jacob closes his show with “Unholy War,” the first song from his next EP, due in March. (I am told that he will release his debut full-length later this year via Interscope as well.) “Unholy War” has more complex instrumentation than some of Jacob’s earlier songs, but it still smartly relies upon his characteristic voice. Like “Monster,” the song finds a narrator who has been crossed and who is going to fight. It would be fair to say his voice has a menacing tone in the number, but truly you’re so busy being gobsmacked by its bluesy earthiness that you can be forgiven for finding the song more golden than gangster.
Listen to “Unholy War” by Jacob Banks on Soundcloud:
Meanwhile, Jacob Banks continues to open for LÉON tonight, Feb. 9, in Chicago. They wrap their tour together in Tennessee on Feb. 28. He also will perform at SXSW in Austin in March. He’s well worth getting out to see, particularly as he’s an excellent complement to LÉON, the lady herself having a distinctive voice that defines her music.
Here are some pictures of Jacob Banks performing at Rock and Roll Hotel on Friday, Feb. 3, 2017.