As Jessy Lanza taps the buttons on her synthesizer to play 5785021, a steamy romper from her debut album Pull My Hair Back, she leans into the microphone and sings with a sultry timbre that makes the already minuscule performance space of the Mercury Lounge feel somewhat like a sauna.
Lanza, dressed in all black everything, is a modest performer. In her one-woman show, she bounces about as daintily as she sings, pressing buttons on her Mac and the keyboard in front of her without much of a tussle. Her breathy vocals are apologetically fragile. She doesn’t want to disturb the peace, much like the nocturnal 5785021, which finds the electro-R&B singer simply recommending that a crush give her a call. The audience at the show wasn’t waiting for the music to seduce them. From the start, fans were cheering her on, shouting in admiration at her low-key coos and grooving with their hands in the air as Lanza’s self-possessed, misty sound filled the room. But what they were really waiting on was their moment to chime in for what is arguably the best line in the song: “You know my address,” they shouted.
Lanza, who hails from Hamilton, Ontario grew up listening to R&B music. Her love of the genre inspired Pull My Hair Back, which was released via Kode9’s London-based dance label Hyperdub last year. She teamed up with the Junior Boys’ Jeremy Greenspan for the breakout album, which has been getting major props in the indie world for its streamlined mix of synth-pop, dance and R&B music.
While Jed Lifeson, Hamilton’s celebrated “Dancing Guy” was not on hand to deliver the fancy footwork he unleashed in “Kathy Lee,” Lanza’s airy melodies and finger-snapping instrumental more than availed in her live performance. “Keep Moving” and “Against the Wall” kept the late-night jitterbug vibe going as did the album’s title track, “Pull My Hair Back,” which is perhaps the model for Lanza’s sensual, after-dark rhythms.
Mostly, Lanza is an artist of precision, both on stage and on wax. Her simplistic lyrics and vocals are center stage when they need to be and sparse when her glossy synths are better apt at inciting emotion. Her presence was meek yet striking. Even when she murmured the words to her songs, there wasn’t the slightest concern that she wasn’t being heard.