REVIEW: Azealia Banks bleeds personability in Fonda show

Harlem-based rapper Azealia Banks performed to a ravenous crowd of dedicated fans at her Los Angeles show Thursday night at the iconic Fonda Theatre. (Sasha Urban | Daily Trojan)

Azealia Banks’ biggest hit is “212,” but on Thursday night, she performed in the 323 to a packed house at The Fonda Theatre. At her third of four California performances this month, Banks delivered a raucous yet intimate hour-long set, including fresh renditions of her classic songs and dynamic vocal stylings.  

Banks released her debut album, “Broke With Expensive Taste,” in 2014, and she has since pushed the envelope of hip-hop and pop with her creative lyrics and flow, as well as her wide range of musical influences — from house and Brazilian to seapunk. Her most recent music video for “Anna Wintour” has garnered over five million views on YouTube, while her video for “212” has over 159 million views.

On Thursday night, the crowd was a melting pot of races, sexual orientations and genders, and an excited buzz was palpable from outside the theater.

The stage was simple — a drum set and DJ booth labeled “SLAY-Z: AZEALIA BANKS” took up the back half, while the front half was reserved for Banks and her two ferocious back-up dancers.

The set kicked off around 9 p.m. with an unnamed opening performer who had little impact outside of building anticipation for Banks’ arrival. For the following two hours, audience members smoked marijuana, chatted and scrolled through their phones, undeterred by the increasingly tight indoor quarters.

Banks energetically opened with “Chi Chi,” a single from 2017. She sported a form-fitting denim outfit and a short black bob (as featured in her “Anna Wintour” video), which she jokingly adjusted throughout the set while smirking at the audience.

Banks performed 15 songs in her one-hour spot and barely spoke a word to the crowd — but she didn’t need to. The entire concert felt like an inside joke between Banks and the audience, and she spoke through her music.

A few times Banks began a new song by performing the bridge a cappella, which seemed odd coming from someone who writes lyrics according to the beat. She describes the practice as being “ … like a mute person [trying] to tell a story, like I have to speak for them,” evidenced in her ability to rap over complex house music-inspired production.  

Occasionally Banks was timid in her deliveries, but she built on them throughout her performance, reaching new heights of fervor during “Anna Wintour” and “Miss Amor.” But nothing could beat the fever pitch that was “212,” which sent the audience into conniptions. Banks closed her set with an encore performance of “Yung Rapunxel,” which included the use of a megaphone.  

Banks is known for her outspokenness on politics and pop culture, which she communicates to her fanbase regularly through Instagram and Twitter.

But most recently, Banks has gained attention for her line of soaps, which she sells as merchandise after her shows, as well as online. Occasionally she passes out free bars of her homemade soap to the front row, but Thursday night’s audience missed out on potential freebies.

But audience members didn’t need any presents to placate them; one zealous fan even threw a hairpiece onto the stage in a fervor.

If her fanbase is any indication, Azealia Banks is a breath of fresh air in today’s music scene. She is both unexpectedly eclectic and genuinely talented, as well as wholly unapologetic. Banks demonstrated Thursday what her devoted fans have always known: She is truly one-of-a-kind as both an artist and performer.