If you’re keeping up with those “Best of 2019” lists, you’re likely no stranger to Nilüfer Yanya. The British singer-songwriter shook the music scene with the much-anticipated release of her debut album Miss Universe this March, which blended raw, venerable lyrics with the unique tenor of her voice–and let’s not forget the backdrops, lilting with saxophones, thrashing guitar riffs, and synths reminiscent of another era in time.
Yanya opened for Sharon Van Etten earlier this year; last Wednesday, she headlined her first show in Chicago at Sleeping Village. And it was a showcase of her exemplary musical abilities as much as it was a celebration.
The night began with music by Lucy Lu, with jazzy sax solos and lyrics like “we can make up ideations.” The sound was sultry and sexy–and they’re also Yanya’s backing band. Next up was Pixx, an experimental, versatile songstress with hidden surprises around every corner. She wove through a set off her second album Small Mercies, and it was the confidence of Pixx, otherwise known as Hannah Rodgers, that captivated the crowd. Appearing before us as a seasoned artist, she was no stranger to the stage. From “Andean Condor,” which began with a B-52’s-esque space intro, to the emotion-laden “Eruption 24,” with lyrics like “Wouldn’t it be funny if I was more like you, if I was weak like you?” Never tethered to genre, Pixx thrashed about the stage and brought us along for the ride.
Nilüfer Yanya stepped on stage positively beaming, looking out to the packed house. When not performing, Yanya is coy, subtly gesturing to up her mic levels. And when the songs start, she becomes a tour-de-force. The brief intro “Experience?” opened the set, during which she wove through songs off Miss Universe. Her voice, with its deliberate inflections in pitch and timbre stole the show and were even more impressive in person. Every note and every lyric became part of an expertly choreographed dance that was perfectly in sync. Standout moments included “Angels,” which led to a singalong of the muted moments. “Hey now, honey / You’re so funny,” on repeat. And the synthy “Safety Net” led to a mesmerized crowd as we took in her musical prowess. To have seen her first headlining set was to witness magic, as a disco ball shone brilliantly above.
All photos by Julian Ramirez