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Azealia Banks At Irving Plaza, Monday, May 11th, 2015, Reviewed


A soaring, sweaty mass of superfans at Irving Plaza last night all had the same thing to say: “Pump-parrrrump-pa-rrum-pump” -the ground was moving under our feet, the humidity so bad people were moving on and off the dance floor, the lights a tumble of blinkered sights as she power drove through “Miss Armor”, stopping only to stop a fight, mid-parrump, her long black hair tangled free, her superwoman costume glittering  like a signpost on a Tokyo liquor store, everything glistening, tempting, violent, loud but also not at all violent, a sub-cult come together. Azealia Banks at Irving Plaza last night was the most purely adrenaline packed gig I’ve seen since Tyler at T5, there were four fights, one person threw up, arguments as people tried to get in the VIP section (not me… not close), a heat wave, a heavy bi-racial, multi-gender melting pot of youngsters losing their shit and Yung Rapunxel in her element: “I wannnnna be freeeee…” And so she was.

A coupla songs later the entire club was screaming on the top of their lungs

“A-yo, A-yo,
I heard you ridin’ with the same tall, tall tale
Tellin’ em you made some
Sayin’ you runnin’ but you ain’t goin’ no where
Why you procrastinate girl?”

Whatever the song, however difficult the rap, the audience were with her.

From the start to the end of Azealia Banks intense and well beloved performance at a packed out Irving Plaza, it was crystal clear that if Broke With Expensive Tastes was great, live she might have very few equals of either sex. I’ve seen Danny Brown, the A$AP family, Action Bronson, Tyler and Earl, Chance The Rapper and more over the past year and none of them have this. Light years ahead of Kendrick on stage, the equal of Drake and Weezy, more committed than Eminem and Jay Z combined, and you have to go to Yeezus to find her better.

With a full tilt energy, two dancers, a beats mechanic and a DJ, and that’s it, she picked and chose her way through her hardest hitting tracks, dropping “Nude Beach A Go Go” to make way for “ATM Jam” at the bottom half. At the top she followed her lead off Expensive Tastes, but dropped the intricacies of beats though not rhyme (and sample) for a full out assault. “Gimme A Chance” stopped and then jumped start the band itself. Every song, every word, on the top of their voices and MC Azealia, her tweet wars won right that second, danced and dropped, moved and grooved non stop with a big big smile.

If you don’t know Azealia’s back story, or just kept to the pix in Playboy,  she is the 23 year old Harlem born and raised Morrissey of New York, an ill tempered, proud woman, who recently condemned Iggy Azalea for appropriating black culture (!), and slammed, in twitter after twitter, everybody who came near her. Including her record label Universal, who dropped her before her before her first album dropped, the surprised released November 2014 Broke With Expensive Tastes. But the thing about Banks is, after a childhood where her Dad died when was two, and her Mom beat her with a baseball bat, all ending up on the poles at local topless bars, and a sense of paranoia that storms through her entire life, this sound is her sound and also an outsider’s sound, and finally a wilful of the sound of the freeness of music. She is great not because she says she’s great, and not because she’s paranoid,  but because “212”, “1991”, “Yung Rapunxel” and more, sound so out of control wild, the language a gouging power, the arrangements hardcore weird: nothing like the sounds of the day, no new r&b dark depression control: the anger, the violence, while musical, is too tough to be depressed.

Making an interesting shocker to the one month later surprise D’Angelo release,  Broke With Expensive Tastes  was the one that had me rethinking my best of list; filled with slights real and imagined, Banks refused to kowtow to her career as clearly as Moz refused to do so with Harvest Records. If you’ve been broke, imagine the guts it takes to follow your sound at any price.

Last night, not seen  locally since 2012, this was a mid-tour gig, and one assumes we are simply lucky she didn’t choose T5, Banks could have certainly sold it out. Instead the intimate Irving Plaza was more intimate still, if you don’t love Banks, you weren’t getting in, and if you didn’t give it your all where were you hiding? Everywhere I looked, all I could see was people going crazy.

For good reason, Banks energy was astounding, it was hot and you could see her sweating and hard, but she never stopped, never gave it up. Her flow was flawless as well, the songs are great any way but she pounced on them and spit them out with both power and feeling, she rapped them in saliva and style, her tone, her spacing, and her dancing, it was a straight joy to watch her.There is no comparing her to Iggy, Banks is vastly superior on every level, there are few female rappers Banks equal, MC Lyte (who I saw in the 1990s and she blew me away), but otherwise, even the best aren’t this good.

With this performance Azealia Banks wins the rap wars 2015 -everybody else can get off Twitter till they can do it.

Grade: A

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