Jessie Reyez performs to a sold-out crowd at The Fillmore Silver Spring on Nov. 14, 2022. (Photos by Casey Vock)
It seems artists must be consistent in their determination to not only create opportunities for themselves but to have their messages be truly heard and appreciated.
Jessie Reyez, the R&B and pop grenade from Toronto, is celebrating the release of what is only her second full-length studio album, and yet she’s already demonstrated perseverance and has been lauded for her ability to reach and connect with her listeners in affective and meaningful ways.
At a sold-out show at The Fillmore in Silver Spring on Nov. 14, the activating and impassioned Reyez energized, lifted and awed a wild audience of fans who’d packed the venue seeking the lively and authentic engagement for which this thrilling and dynamic performer has become known.
The night was for many an anticipated date on the Yessie tour, synonymous with the record released in September by FMLY and Island Records, and the atmosphere was triumphant and emotional as a burst of flashing lights and swirling sounds gave way to Reyez materializing between a set of massive, open hands — a symbol of openness, celebration, and joy.
Working her way across the stage in a tie-dye minidress, back and forth, long hair flying during every song, Jessie revved up the diverse audience both on the first level and in the balcony section too, where attendees screamed and pumped their fists in the air for “Mood (Pt. 1).”
Stream Jessie Reyez’s new studio album, Yessie, via Spotify:
This piece of the opening track to the latest album showed off her majestic blending of sounds — some classic, some more cutting-edge — to tell a contemporary story in a refreshing and empathetic way, one that appears to so strongly resonate with her adoring fans.
The Silver Spring venue struggled to contain itself as Jessie made her way through “Shutter Island,” one of her early singles, and then “Break Me Down,” a dazzling display of her unconventional, entrancing vocals, and almost everyone in the room appeared to be singing back at the glowing stage.
“If you came here with the intention of blowing your lungs out as fuck and losing your voice, let me hear it,” she implored the room to a deafening response.
A hot coffee in a to-go cup hand delivered to her only a few minutes into the night spoke to her country of origin, but indicated she was indeed in the for the long haul. She glowed in pointing at fans and then speaking directly to them. Some held up bright orange shirts, a color associated with the tour artwork and that of a revealing outfit the expressive Reyez donned for a recent show.
Unabashed and inspirited, witty and tireless, the 31-year-old has been on the rise since she made her way into the industry following a fortuitous and catalytic chain of events. In touring across the country and back again to support her second studio album, the star singer-songwriter is showcasing an amalgam of all she stands for and so artfully espouses through her music.
Raised by Colombian parents in different parts of Toronto, including her birthplace, Jane and Finch, she’d spend most of her secondary school years in Brampton. Turned on to the guitar by her father in a tight-knit household where cumbia and other Colombian music was always playing in the background, she eventually found the outlet of other instruments — like her school’s piano — and writing her own songs to get through some of most challenging times and heartache experienced in her late teen years.
Reyez eventually made the difficult decision to follow her family to Miami when they were granted American visas rather than stay in Toronto. Suddenly, she found herself living a dead-end existence in Miami where she was bartending and only barely connected to music, wielding a guitar late at night on the beach as the party wound down.
It was on a bit of a panicked whim that she decided to pull together footage that a friend had shot for a potential video. The three-and-half-minute clip that she made herself in hopes of changing her own life did in fact alter her world, as she was eventually accepted into The Remix Project, an arts institution back in Toronto helping young people from low-income families pursue their dreams in music, photography and more.
This led her to connect with King Louie, a rapper from Chicago who heard her work and quickly wanted to team up with her. The collaboration — the track titled “Living In The Sky” — gave her confidence, created buzz that put her on tour with world-renown artists and eventually led her to record and release her first EP, 2017’s Kiddo, which became a breakout and garnered Juno nominations.
After the release of her first studio album back in 2020, Before Love Came To Kill Us, she was supposed to open for Billie Eilish as part of a world tour, but — with the onset of the pandemic — she played only two of those shows in Florida before being halted by the shutdown of live venues.
Still, she persevered and kept herself on an upward trajectory, earning a bevy of awards or nominations, including a Grammy nod in 2020, and she stayed focused on connecting with her fans and other artists — working with Eminem more than once.
And with so much of her own story and her own experiences comprising the songs she crafts and performs, there’s a natural beauty and a silky-smoothness in her delivery and a passion that simply comes through in every song — demonstrated so beautifully in her Tiny Desk Concert performance posted last month on NPR Music’s YouTube channel to celebrate Latinx Heritage Month.
Watch Jessie Reyez’s Tiny Desk performance via the NPR Music YouTube channel:
But as so many have already pointed out, there is nothing passive about Jessie as a human or as an artist, and she’s unapologetically and courageously tackled issues through her music and her conversation — and she was recognized by Billboard in 2020 for her efforts to battle sexism and racism while being applauded for being earnest and direct to her millions of followers on social media.
In Silver Spring last week, Jessie showed otherworldly abilities in illuminating a healthy selection from her budding catalogue that already represents a bounding endeavor by this world-class vocalist to weave soul, hip-hop and more and characterize it with the traditional sounds that her family engrained in her as a child. A stunning and brutally honest take on “Mutual Friend” left the room in astonishment of this gifted and determined entertainer.
Reyez, who did make it back out on tour with Billie Eilish earlier this year, playing to huge European crowds, made a point to comment on the many men at The Fillmore — not just young, but of all ages — enjoying her music.
“I love locking eyes with a dude who knows the lyrics inside out,” she said. “I love seeing men who believe in feminism.”
Jessie thanked those of her followers she deemed “early riders,” those who played her music for friends in her earliest days of recording. She went on to shout out family in the room, some of whom, she smiled, weren’t entirely sure about the sexuality that seeps from some tracks on the new record.
“You know what I said? Lucky for me, they’re in English!”
She referred to the room as a place of no shame, diving into discussions about “the friend zone,” and other subjects tracing back through her lyrics.
“It’s a vibe, it’s an energy in here,” she told the audience. And, though hearing so much of what she had to say was nearly inaudible underneath the intense shouting of hyped fans, she got familiar with those in the room, even accepting a custom-stitched jacket from one ticketholder and sharing her Instagram account with the room to promote her work.
And Jessie also showed decency and quick-thinking in swiftly coaching those on the first level to part for venue staff when one ticketholder had a medical issue, apparently passing out, which was quickly addressed.
Bent on being more “concise” herself, Reyez’s music and its range shows she’s an artist learning to trust in herself more and more. At the Fillmore, she showed her influence and leadership in encouraging her fans to be more present in their daily pursuit of fulfillment.
“When you have faith in the greater good in life, it can get better,” she said. “I subscribe to the school of thought that your thoughts make up your world. So have your own back. You can only connect the dots backward. You can’t connect them forward.”
An enlightening and provocative set that ended with Jessie alone on a stool with a guitar — like her beginnings as a lonely, aspiring busker — it could very well be the last opportunity to see this remarkable achiever in a venue with only a couple thousand people as she has the momentum to continue blazing her own trail.
Mood Pt. 1
Break Me Down
Queen St. W
Still C U
Apple Juice/Great One Medley
Phone Calls (Condensed, V1, C1)
Mood Pt. 2