When I got a ticket to Jessie Reyez‘ quickly selling show at Chicago’s Lincoln Hall (as I’ve mentioned countless times, my favorite venue in the city), I didn’t know what exactly to expect. Just a few months prior, I saw the 27-year-old Toronto native perform to a rowdy, sweaty crowd engulfed in dust clouds at Lollapalooza. The early afternoon set in a sweltering 95 degrees gave a nice insight to who she was as a singer, songwriter and musician, but the 40 minutes was really just a sneak peek as to what she could really deliver at her own headlining show.
If you’re unfamiliar with Reyez (I’m truly sad for you if you don’t know her music) I’ll fill you in. Born in Toronto to Columbian parents, Reyez learned guitar at a young age and started writing music in high school. She moved to Florida after graduating high school to pursue music while working side jobs and busking on the beach. In 2014, Reyez returned to Toronto after she was accepted into The Remix Project’s Academy of Recording Arts. Her success in the program and in Toronto led her to collaborate with King Louie (S/O to this Chicago artist) in 2014 and the release of “Shutter Island” and “Figures” in 2016. “Figures” now has almost 56 million Spotify streams.
Reyez’ debut EP, Kiddo, was released in April 2017, along with a short film titled “Gatekeeper: A True Story.” The video is inspired by the song of the same name – about Reyez’ personal experience with a music producer named Noel “Detail” Fisher who has been accused by numerous artists of sexual misconduct – as well as Reyez’ experience with the producer as well. You can see it below;
Along with the release of her second EP in 2018, titled Being Human In Public, Reyez has racked up numerous songwriting credits – “One Kiss” recorded by Dua Lipa, “Promises” with Sam Smith and “Slow Down” by Calvin Harris. She also has collaborations with Eminem’s 2018 release Kamikaze.
Reyez ended up selling out her entire North American fall tour completely – selling out Lincoln Hall in about 24 hours. I had nobody to go with me but opted to go alone since riding solo to shows is a new(er) thing that I am trying to get comfortable with – missing out on a very much anticipated set just because you feel weird standing alone isn’t a good enough excuse for me to miss a show.
Walking into the venue, I was instantly hit with a sense of female friendship and comradare that I wasn’t expecting (which is ironic since I had 0 of my own friends interested in checking out this performance). Looking back, this shouldn’t have been unexpected: Reyez’ music is full of sappy, disheartening love songs AND a ton of bops “don’t fuck with me” bops: perfect dissonance for young women looking to feel every emotion possible in a 90 minute set.
The energy of the crowd was electric as Reyez’ start time came and went with no sign of her appearing onstage – until she arrived about 12 minutes late. The tardiness was forgivable as the entire audience erupted with screams as loud as One Direction’s show at Soldier Field four years ago. I’m not even trying to exaggerate – the screams that Reyez pulled out of this (primarily) female audience was something to see. The phones went up into the air as Reyez appeared through a veil of smoke wearing a hooded sweatshirt with a hat and denim shorts (despite the 30 degrees outside) – but she was ready to bring the heat.
The first song of the evening was “Dear Yessie,” one of the “don’t fuck with me” songs I mentioned before – the ultimate anthem to kick off a set to a sold out crowd. The song ended abruptly as she led into her next track “Apple Juice” – much softer than the former. The crowd’s attention was razor focus as Reyez energy led her to jumping on speakers, crowd surfing and even starting a mosh pit as she covered the song “Nice Guy” by Eminem – the one she has a feature on.
What struck me most about Reyez is her ability to transition between soft and hard, loud and quiet, angry and happy but always vulnerable. One minute she’s calling out a fling (“F*** Being Friends”) – one minute she’s praising self love and free love (“Body Count”) – the next minute she’s laying it all out on the stage, calling out the trauma she’s faced due sexual harassment (“Gatekeepers”).
Similar to Kali Uchis, whose show I reviewed earlier this year, Reyez’ music is shaping the new future of pop music: including bilingual songs in her releases and even singing one song entirely in Spanish (“Sola). Both women are so entirely different in their sound and stage presence but are both coming together to create a new vision for how we listen to pop and R&B music and it’s important to take note of that.
But what was the most captivating was the few slowed down moments at the end of the night when she gave one of the most raw performances I’ve seen this year of “Figures” – sitting on a stool with her guitarist, swaying back and forth, hair tied up in a bun on top of her head out of her face, seemingly teary eyed the entire song. It was like a religious experience for those who could relate to the lyrics. Two female friends who were standing in front of me the entire show had their arms wrapped around each other as they both cried into each other’s shoulders to this entire song. I hadn’t seen that sort of reaction to a live performance in a long time.
“Figures / I’m the bad guy ’cause I can’t learn to trust / Love figures / You say sorry once and you think it’s enough / I got a lineup of girls and a lineup of guys / Begging for me just to give ’em a try / Figures / I’m willing to stay / ‘Cause I’m sick for your love / I wish I could hurt you back / Love, what would you do if you couldn’t get me back / You’re the one who’s gonna lose / Something so special, something so real”
What I look for in an artist that I want to support is a few things: songwriting ability, vocal ability, emotion and vulnerability, despite the subject matter you’re singing about. Reyez emulates all of those things so deeply and purely, it’s honestly a shock that she isn’t selling out bigger venues at this point. If she continues being herself, I have no doubt that she’ll be a household name this time next year.
Thanks for reading. This one took me awhile to post as I’ve been REALLY struggling with Writer’s Block.
12/4 – The Japanese House
12/6 – The Head & The Heart, Mt. Joy
Click here to read every show review from 2018.