Going to a show at a university bar is a bit of a gamble. I had seen disastrously mixed, poorly attended shows and packed performances executed flawlessly at SAIT’s homely watering hole. This Thursday night in Calgary was brimming with live music options, so I was pleased to see a healthy attendance for Hyperdub artist Jessy Lanza’s premiere performance in the city.

Sergio Levels opened the show with some future bass cuts but was relegated to a low volume, like house music filling silence between acts. The mood in the room was casual, mostly comprised of students enjoying pitchers of beer and slices of pizza after a quiet day of their sleepy spring semester.

Headliner Jessy Lanza makes minimalist synth-driven pop based around her echoed, R&B intonations. It’s a pristine sound, hemmed from vintage analogue gear that is inventive rather than fetishist. Making her first crossing of Canada as a solo act on a thinking man’s dance label was surely daunting and it was unclear if the night’s attendees would be receptive.

Thankfully, when Lanza meekly appeared behind her LED-lit rig, the entire room came rushing to crowd the front of the stage. While the live set-up made heavy use of backing tracks, her casual and intimate stage presence captured the audience while she focused on making use of her trusty synthesizer and nailing every note vocally.

Lanza was transfixing in the way she appeared to be singing to a lover invisible to the audience and the mix gave a perfect balance to her breathy vocal work and the snap-stutter of her sleek beats. The concise performance ran through most of her debut, Pull My Hair Back. The set was rounded out by a rework of her vocal turn for electronic chameleon Ikonika as well a new track. Dancing was on display and each song was met with cheering.

It appeared Lanza was surprised by the positive reception and in turn the audience was savouring the thrill of a new discovery. Sometimes all it takes to build an audience is to be great at what you do and be in the right place at the right time. Jessy Lanza can leave Calgary with the claim that she accomplished both.

Photos and words by Colin Gallant

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