Live Review: Azealia Banks

12 March 2013 | 11:14 am | Adrian Potts

Judging from the rapper’s fearless performance this evening, she obviously intends to move from the shadow of the song as soon as she possibly can.

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Azealia Banks has been a divisive figure since the release of her colossally popular throw-down rap, 212, in late 2011. Some among the hip hop cognoscenti have labelled her a faddish hipster rapper, she's copped flak for extremely un-PC Twitter tirades, and she's responded to it all with utmost braggadocio. Given that the hugely hyped 21-year-old doesn't even have an album out yet, it's fair to say that she has something to prove on this her first full Australian tour. Namely, her own worth.

From the top of tonight's packed-out show, the New York-native doesn't put a foot wrong. Early up is the spit-fire stutter of Atlantis from her Fantasea mixtape. She delivers her mile-a-minute raps with almost breathless ease. Ditto on the '90s-house-infused Van Vogue, from her 1991 EP, while two scantily clad male and female back-up dancers vogue their athletic little hearts out. You'd think that given Banks plunders so freely from the gay drag-ball culture of yesteryear that she'd have more nous not to throw around the word 'faggot' so pejoratively on Twitter, but it's not a contradiction that seems likely to be resolved any time soon.

The worst criticism you could level at Banks's performance is its same-y feel. Her material, which is mostly drawn from the aforementioned mixtape and EP, becomes somewhat monotonous played back-to-back. The set rarely errs from the big beats and belligerent lyrics of songs such as Liquorice or her re-purposing of Harlem Shake. It serves to make cruiser moments, like the mid-tempo calypso of Jumanji, more interesting by comparison.

For all her bratty controversiality on the internet and in interviews, the rapper is impressively – if not impeccably – professional throughout tonight's show. She exudes the focus and confidence of somebody with their eye on the prize. “What the fuck you gonna do when I premiere?” she shouts ahead of the final song, 212. It seems partly a diss to her critics and almost an admission that she hasn't repeated the alchemy of 212 yet, but intends to on her forthcoming album. The audience reaction to the song is frenzied and eclipses the reception to anything else she's played tonight. It's clear that most in the audience couldn't care less about debates around Banks being an authentic rap artists or a homophobe – they're here to hear the hit that she is, for the time being, known by. Judging from the rapper's fearless performance this evening, she obviously intends to move from the shadow of the song as soon as she possibly can.

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