Jessie Reyez Winter Garden Theatre, Toronto ON, October 21
Published Oct 22, 2019Not to belabour the point, but a R&B-pop night like tonight in a pre-Drake era would have been a rare, if not nonexistent, event.
But Jessie Reyez has earned the headlines at the point. While her anticipated 2019 full-length is now an anticipated 2020 album, Reyez has been hitting us with singles in the interim — including the latest number "Far Away" — and the Polaris Music Prize-shortlisted Being Human in Public EP.
It's the Red Bull Music Festival in Toronto and Jessie Reyez is the closing act. And it's a special one, a high school musical affair with "professionally amateur" production values — bring on the smoke machines! The show opens with a "doctor" walking on stage. He's dismayed that Jessie is performing today, what with her much publicized back issues that forced her to cancel some notable shows earlier this year. But perform tonight she does, literally wheeled out, Hannibal Lecter-style, in a straitjacket. That's a good a time as any to open with "Shutter Island" — "My straitjacket's custom-made though!"
What's gotten the artist this far this fast is her songwriting skills, her musicianship and her ability to hone in on human emotion, vulnerability and empowerment. "You entertained by my hell?" she asks at one point, inferring that performing such personal and emotional songs is both draining — "poking open a scab each time" — and yet empowering, by way of crowd reaction and emotional growth.
The high school skits continued, with an ex-lover walking up to the stage, and some Trumpian "I.C.E" immigration officers grabbing up an "illegal" family from the crowd to lead into "Far Away." A quick set change brought on an orchestra on stage and on the balcony of the Winter Garden Theatre for a strong rendition of "Gatekeeper," and then another change saw her step into a traditional Columbian dress — along with an accompanying Colombian band — for "Sola."
It was an also surreal night to see the relatively new artist capture the crowd's reaction, even at one point performing a new unnamed ballad — with chorus lyrics "Love in the Dark" — to a good reaction.
Ending with a sit-down acoustic version of "Figures," Reyez is completely at ease on the stage and with her status as a star at this point. For homegrown R&B-pop lovers, it's great to see.