Jessie Reyez stuns with fearsome voice after long delay

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Anissa Nishioka/Staff

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In a Twitter message, a fan in the crowd of Jessie Reyez’s Friday show at the Rickshaw Stop typed “can u hurry up @jessiereyez,” tilting their blue and white Twitter feed toward a giggling friend. That moment — youthful, impatient and good-natured — captures the essence of the night perfectly. After a long wait to come out on stage, Reyez met her dizzyingly excited crowd head-on, filling the tiny venue with enough defiant, hyped-up sound to effectively banish the memory of the delay from the audience members’ minds.

The two-hour wait before Reyez made her appearance wasn’t just painfully slow; it was painfully loud — the house speakers pumped excruciatingly loud EDM remixes and popular songs from the past few years into the ears of the impatient crowd. Yet all (minus the hearing damage) was redeemed the moment Jessie Reyez graced the stage, head and eyes covered with a too-big green baseball cap that slouched onto her with lazy grace.

Reyez has a stunning voice. She’s been compared to Amy Winehouse, whose throatiness and bad ass-ery live again in the body of this 27-year-old Colombian-Canadian woman. But it’s not an entirely accurate comparison, either. Her singing voice is thinner than Winehouse’s was — more insistent, harder to ignore. If “Valerie” beckoned with a velvet finger, “Shutter Island” rattles a tin cup against prison bars. One asks you to listen; the other demands.

Her opening song was “Fuck It,” an imagined conversation between a couple, one of whom crashes the other’s car. An undeniably energetic start to the show, it nonetheless paled in comparison to “Shutter Island,” an angsty banger with the unforgettable chorus, “My straitjacket’s custom-made, though.”

Reyez’s songs entice like fire — pretty, but hot enough to burn anyone who gets too close. They’re passionate, fearsome and accusatory, stringing up the sins of the people who have hurt her for all to see. On Friday, the best example of this was “Gatekeeper,” a song about Reyez’s own experience of sexual harassment within the music industry.

With lyrics like “You know we’re holding the dreams that you’re chasing / You know you’re supposed to get drunk and get naked,” it’s already an intense song, fierce and full-throated in its accusations. Performed live, “Gatekeeper” takes on a new life, sounding like Reyez ripped it from her own body. Bass booming behind her, a crowd of screaming fans in front, it becomes a personal “fuck you” to the producer who preyed upon her, proving utterly wrong his insistence that Reyez would have to put out to make it big.

Over the course of the night, Reyez returned often to her early days in the music industry. Honoring the fans who have been with her “since day one,” she treated the audience to an old specialty of hers: covers of popular songs. Like fellow Canadian Justin Bieber, Reyez got her foot in the door of the industry by posting videos of herself singing other artists’ songs on YouTube. On Friday, Reyez’s homage to the early days of her music career was made up of ScHoolboy Q’s “THat Part” and a molasses-sweet cover of “Cocoa Butter Kisses.”

She did not, however, linger long in the past; immediately after, she offered the audience a rarer gift: unreleased music. Monologuing about the experience of having been cheated on, she advised crowd members, “You can do one of two things: you can cry… or you can say, ‘No, bitch. That’s mine’ ” before breaking into two new songs about that same topic.

In an industry expanded drastically by the advent of Auto-Tune and mixing software, it feels rare to find an artist who sounds better in concert than on record. Reyez — with a voice that is at once tender, iron-hard and sensuous — is truly a gem. Naysayers and predators beware: if one thing is clear from her show, it’s this: don’t mess around with Jessie Reyez.

Contact Sarah Elisabeth Coduto at [email protected].