To say that I was a little unfamiliar with ZZ Ward would be an understatement. Before last week I had heard one or two songs, but never made a point to check out the rest of her debut album. When I finally heard the whole thing, I was impressed with how well-crafted the songs were. It’s a mixture of live music, loops, and effects that sounds like Emily Wells and KT Tunstall in a mashup. I was curious to see how the show would play out-would it be ZZ and a laptop creating the music, or live players? All my questions were answered soon enough, as this was a very early show.
I got to Lincoln Hall at 7:05 and the opener was already on stage playing. Martin Harley is a blues slide guitar player from the UK that has some great licks. He was slapping and grooving his six-string with authority and delighting the audience. When he wasn’t impressing with his skills, he was telling stories of violent men brought to tears by his songs. He closed his set with a great cover of the Tom Waits song “Chocolate Jesus.” I really liked this guy, and I hope he comes back to Chicago for a longer set.
By 7:40 ZZ Ward’s band was on stage hyping up the crowd. This show has been sold out for a while, and the crowd was hungry and waiting for some soul/blues to be delivered. They erupted when ZZ finally came to the stage and launched into a raucous rendition of “Til The Casket Drops.” When the song ended she announced that they didn’t have a setlist before making their way into “Home.”
Feeding off the energy from the crowd, Ward and her band seemed to be having a ball on stage. It was obvious that these musicians love to play live-especially the guitarist whose name I did not catch. He had some great blues riffs and his solos were incendiary. Ward was mostly smiles and fist pumping while dazzling the crowd with hits like “Criminal” and “Put The Gun Down.”
The show reached it’s pinnacle with “Charlie Ain’t Home,” which required a lot of audience interaction. On the record it’s a laid back lamentation of one of blues music’s biggest tropes, cheating lovers , but live it takes on a completely different feel. All the guys and girls in the audience were dancin’, clappin’, and singin’ along while Ward howled and cooed.
I was surprised by the diversity in the audience at Lincoln Hall. All ages and ethnicities turned out to hear some blues/soul music played very well. I hope that for the younger people it turns them all toward some of the greats that Ward has been influenced by in her career. As someone who went in not knowing what to expect, I walked away with great appreciation for Ward and her band’s talent. They’ve taken a genre that has been around for a hundred years and made it feel fresh again, which is no simple task.
You can check out some more pics from the show in the album on our Facebook page.