Sometimes, after a particularly short concert, something happens that could be called the “45-minute test.” It goes like this. When the event is over, did you feel:
a. Cheated. What do you mean, just 45 minutes. Show me the money!
b. Fabulous. It was terrible, good riddance.
c. Disappointed. It was good, and it would have been great had they kept going for another hour.
d. Woohoo! When the concert is amazing, who cares about the time. It’s music, not the consumer price index.
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When Azealia Banks’ performance in Tel Aviv Monday night ended after 45 minutes (or 50, I didn’t use a stopwatch; in any case, under an hour), it was absolutely obvious that the correct answer was d. Woohoo! It didn’t hurt that at the time we were under the ecstatic influence of “212,” the song that ended the concert and a particularly exhilarating number. But even setting aside (why would you?) the nearly intoxicating effect of “212,” it was a wonderful performance. Forty-five minutes of physical release and mental joy – and of mental release and physical joy – beat by a long shot an hour and a half of coloring inside the lines, without those unforgettable extras.
Azealia Banks is an unpredictable musician who never colors inside the lines. That her basic characteristic, it’s what makes her such a thrilling artist and it’s also the reason she chose a midsize club like Tel Aviv’s Barby rather than an amphitheater that seats 5,000. Banks’ nonconformity is also what leads her into raucous Twitter wars, as well as real-life altercations. These incidents have given her a reputation of someone whose public persona and behavior are more colorful and interesting than her music, but that’s not the case.
Banks’ music, at its best in any case (she also has plenty of banal songs), has a wild, free, unrestrained, irresponsible side that is messy in a good way and impossible to pin down or categorize.
Is she a rapper? Yes, and a good one. But that’s not all. She also has a soul singer inside her, who came out during a few passages when she sang a cappella. Also, and perhaps most importantly, she’s a house-music singer. Banks’ songs have a strong club-music dimension to them, in the most visceral sense of the term: a crazy beat, an atmosphere of sexual freedom, a reaching for euphoria. Since it took Banks and her crew around a quarter of an hour to warm up and reach that state, the amazing part of the concert was half an hour at most. It was more than enough.
That’s not to say that the crowd didn’t want to squeeze another drop from the experience. When Banks left the stage after “212,” people began stamping on the floor as if they really meant business. Banks returned for an encore that resolved into an image that will remain etched in memory: She stood with a megaphone in one hand and a microphone in the other, and sang the sentence “I wanna be free,” over and over. The DJ scratched behind her, the drummer attacked his kit and the two dancers twisted their bodies. And, of course, Banks’ bald, burly bodyguard stood on the stage and didn’t move a muscle. This is America, no less than the viral clip by Childish Gambino, live before our very eyes.