Lancaster County, Pennsylvania has always been on my list of places to visit, and when Phish played there last year I got to see some Mennonites at the show, but never got to explore the area. In my head it’s this magical place where carts and buggies live in harmony with automobiles, cats and dogs walking side by side, and rising young band The Districts from the area sound exactly like what I imagine is played in little fictional town squares there. They’ve got an Americana sound that has more oomph to it than past popular rootsy bands like Mumford & Sons, the blues and indie rock slants sound fresh and unique in comparison, and it’s pretty hard to believe they are teenagers; Rob Grote’s vocals drip with wisdom and thoughtfulness and crackle with emotion. Harmonica and slide guitar smooth things out while bright full percussion bring a steady beat to their music that should have festival crowds going nuts in the future. They are playing here in Denver at Lost Lake on Mar. 16th, I imagine they will never play a show here that small again. I could easily see them getting scooped as an opener on some Red Rocks summer night if their trajectory stays on course. Listen to their single “Funeral Beds” here and stream the whole album at their Bandcamp linked below.
ZZ Ward is absolutely soaring. In March I watched her play to a small but excited group of mostly industry folks at SXSW, then a couple months ago got to shoot her sold out show at the Gothic. Last night she was already back for another sold out show at the Ogden, and her charisma is so strong she could easily handle Red Rocks. Talent and chops galore, she kills the blues on guitar, harmonica and keys, and we haven’t even gotten to her vocals. One thing I have noticed with her very dedicated fanbase is that she has managed to grab a lot of the people that are into R&B, and with chops close to Christina Aguilera’s, she doesn’t dissapoint them either. Last night included a special guest appearance by DW, her blues musician father that got her into this whole mess. The show exceeded the recent Gothic show, and really showed that the sky is the limit for ZZ.
Where do I begin with this band. I first saw them in 2009 thinking I was going to see some smooth blues guitarist, and instead I saw a cuter, hipper, younger James Brown with a fuzz pedal and a white tank top (who can play some smooth blues for sure, though). First things first, Black Joe Lewis no longer has and the Honeybears in their name. Don’t worry, the Honeybears are still there, and I asked the very talented former Honeybear and baritone sax player Joseph Woullard today about the name edit, and he spoke about how the cohesive sound they had didn’t really require a modifier, stating “We knew what we were getting into, and welcome the discussion. Objectively speaking, the majority of people don’t even know who we are anyway, so we might as well be who we want to be”. I’d say that’s all the discussion needed, and apparently what they want to be is the dirtiest, funkiest garage rock band I’ve ever heard a saxophone even step near. The album kicks off with that wonderful electric guitar sound signifying someone is plugged in, and then “Skulldiggin'” kicks off with a thick fuzz midtempo beat, giving a taste that this album is going to be a little harder and more raw.
The next song “Young Girls” instantly reminded me of “Boogie”, one of my favorite tracks from their album Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is. It’s a fast paced boogie woogie with taunting vocals and lyrics of lust, classic BJL. “Guilty” is a great tune that really lets the horn section shine with great bursts of melody turning into a ominous, growing buildup of sound in the latter portion of the song. These guys can get such raw, pure sounds out of their instruments, they make it sound like brass and distortion were invented to be together. New party anthem “Come To My Party” is also a standout, it’s got a great confident swagger and is full of Black Joe Lewis saying improvised things that don’t always make total sense, but he sounds really cool saying them (one of his strongest talents, in my opinion). “Vampire” takes it down a notch with some dirty, slow southern blues, the horns giving you the feeling of walking late at night in the French Quarter without a friend alive. Wait- I just described a vampire’s night, the song works! I can’t wait to hear “The Hipster” live, it’s one of those fast paced dance numbers that end up turning into mosh pits at the shows sometimes. This album has made me so homesick that I have tabs open with flights to Austin, the album releases tomorrow, check it out if you are a fan of the blues, garage rock, guitar, fuzz, Austin, good times or good showmanship. Black Joe Lewis rules.
Last night ZZ Ward played her heart out to a sold out audience in Denver, and everyone left wanting to be her. What a cool, talented chick. She can belt the blues, rage a soulful blues guitar, rock the keys and play a wild harmonica. We needed an exciting blues musician like this. The audience was packed into the Gothic over an hour before she even hit the stage, volume buzzing ever higher as the great Ft. Collins opener, You, Me and Apollo finished.
She started the show with her hit single “Put the Gun Down”, and the audience of mostly females freaked out. Above you can see ZZ’s interpretive dance for the lyric “I’ve got ten fingers to the sky”.
I love when artists have a huge backdrop of their name, and I thought ZZ’s looked great.
I’d say ZZ Ward is one to watch, but I think everyone’s already watching! I can’t wait to see what happens in her future, a collaboration with Gary Clark Jr. would be amazing….
….and of course, there were a ton of hats in attendance. Don’t miss ZZ Ward when she hits your town, but go early for a good seat, she’s in the big time.