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Jessie Reyez dazzles fans with songs of empowerment at first of two shows at History

Jessie Reyez may never have to pay for another undergarment in her life.

At what seems to be a commonplace occurrence at her concerts, the Toronto-born Reyez collected a half-dozen bras and panties during the first of her two shows at History on Monday (there are a scarce number of tickets remaining for Wednesday). She then spent lengthy portions of her performance dangling various pieces of lingerie by their straps as she serenaded the crowd of 2,500 through choice selections from her catalogue.

The gesture from the predominantly female crowd isn’t surprising — aside from the fangirl admiration Reyez obviously attracts, she speaks an intimate truth through her soulful R&B songs that is blunt, sometimes painful and foreign to rose-coloured romanticism.

That makes her relatable. Adding to the attraction is Reyez’s impish and raspy voice that can shift between being precociously playful and delicately tender.

And we haven’t even mentioned her personality: Reyez is a loquacious spitfire who drops a multitude of F-bombs in her banter and her music — there seems to be very little filter — but aside from being entertaining, she has an uncanny ability to simultaneously speak to both the individual and the crowd, creating an immediate bond between herself and her fans.

All of this was on display at History during a 20-song set that relied early and heavily on Reyez’s new album “Yessie.” The opening salvo began with blinding lights and smoke that found the singer hunched over and reciting the verse of “Mood,” before detouring into “Shutter Island” from “Kiddo” and then returning to the newer music.

With a pair of giant, open-palmed plastic hands serving as immovable on-stage props and seemingly reaching for the heavens, Reyez and her three-piece band — guitarist Heather Crawford, drummer Santino DeVilla and keyboardist Mark James — delivered a dramatic rendition of “Break Me Down” before she launched into her one of her many speeches.

“You didn’t realize you were coming to a sing-a-long, did you?” Reyez queried, before using one of the aforementioned thrown pieces of lingerie to conduct the crowd as they sang parts of “Queen St. W” and “Mutual Friend” back to the singer: songs about sex that is urgent, complicit and — in the last tune — rebuffed.

As a performer, Reyez is a dynamic and charismatic presence whose every physical move seems engineered to force as much power as possible through the microphone. She bent forward, her long brunette tresses almost scraping the stage floor, as she reached for a little something extra on songs like “Only One,” or “Before Love Came To Kill Us.”

Reyez performed a 20-song set, including many songs from her latest album "Yessie."

And these were not copycat renditions of the recorded originals: perhaps the show’s most dazzling moment came during Reyez’s performance of “Gatekeeper,” the song about predatorial misogyny in the music industry. After singing the line “30 million people want a shot/ How much would it take for you to spread your legs apart” amid a red light backdrop, the performer suddenly fell on her back, setting the stage for Crawford to deliver a searing guitar solo that brutally conveyed all the hurt and discomfort felt by countless women placed in that untenable position by unsavoury men.

It was the evening’s finest piece of theatre — and Reyez at her most potent. When she nails those impossible sentiments, she’s untouchably epic.

She also provided plenty of in-between song monologues on empowerment, going as far to engage the audience in a moment of meditation followed by a moment of primal scream therapy.

And Reyez also repeatedly expressed gratitude to the audience for enabling her to pursue a fulltime career in music, even interrupting her scheduled setlist to dive into an impromptu acapella version of a song requested by an audience member: “I can’t say no.”

The show also delved into the unexpected during the encore, with Reyez performing a full dance party rendition of the Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa hit “One Kiss” — which Reyez co-wrote — before ending with a show-stopping version of “Figures” that again had the audience serenading its performer.

Audience members look on as musician Jessie Reyez performs at the History music venue in Toronto.

This concert was also the first experienced by this reviewer in the fairly new venue known as History, and I must say it’s an amazing addition to the city’s music scene. It’s spacious, and the horseshoe-shaped interior offers great sightlines from practically anywhere one sits or stands.

Of course, when you have a performer as magical as Jessie Reyez — Toronto’s next superstar — showing it off, first impressions are even more favourable.


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