Monday, December 07, 2009
Zero 7 @ Phoenix Concert Theatre: photo by Michael Ligon
Update [Dec 8/09, 11:45 pm]: Review now posted below.
Last Thursday marked UK's Zero 7's return to Toronto having last played here in 2006 for that year's Virgin Festival. Along on their current tour were Brookly dance trio Body Language.
Body Language were a trio of young indie types (Matthew Young & Grant Wheeler both on keys/vocals and Angelica Bess on vocals/glockenspiel) who played surprisingly effective synth dance pop. The music was reminiscnet of say Junior Boys although perhaps sunnier, based in song and melody but fleshed out with synthetic elements like synths, vocoder and beats and some natural elements like glockenspiel. They had good stage presence, moving and dancing along to their own beats and encouraging the crowd to do the same, although the Toronto audience was typically introverted never really dancing as they could have, although you could sense some people almost wanted to. However, the crowd did show appreciation with their applause.
Prior to this show, I'd seen Zero 7 twice before, the first time back in May 2004 at The Opera House, a truly stunning and enjoyable live set and then in September 2006 at Olympic Island as part of Virgin Festival, a generally disappointing set plagued with delays and technical difficulties. Zero 7's strength for me laid not merely with their sultry downtempo electronic grooves melded with natural and acoustic instrumentation but also with a capable group of vocalists including Sia Furler, Sophie Barker and Tina Dico, although by the time their third album, 2006's "The Garden" rolled around, only Sia was left from the original three. Zero 7's seemingly been a reboot for the trio of vocalists' respective solo careers although with varying degrees of success (Sia seemingly the most successful of the bunch), but the new album, this year's "Yeah Ghost", includes none of the original three female vocalists, and having read some mixed reviews for the new album, made me quite apprehensive about how relevant and or essential they still were. Although for the record, technically, I lost touch with Zero 7 after 2004 album "When It Falls".
While the downtempo aspects of Zero 7's sound are perhaps a little dated in 2009, the live set was quite a melange of musical influences from soul, r n' b, electronica, and folkier, pastoral elements. The vocals were handled more than dutifully, incorporating the soulful, jazzy vocals of vocalist Eska Mtungwazi and the versatile, earthy vocals of folk-artist Olivia Chaney and even Zero 7's Henry Binn. I especially liked Olivia's vocals which while displaying a certain technical prowess still sounded very much natural and inviting - I enjoyed her vocals on 'Pop Art Blue'. While the musicianship itself was impeccable, there was a casual, effortless vibe over the whole set and oft-times expressing a playfulness at least in body language. Focussing heavily on new album "Yeah Ghost" the band also jumped backwards to play select songs from their previous three efforts. If like me, you hadn't bothered to familiarize yourself with anything after their 2004 effort, it turned out to be a generally unfamiliar set(I think the only song I really recognized was their debut's 'Destiny' although which they spiked with a bit more energy than the original's sultrier vibe), but still managed to convey Zero 7's strength adequately. Sultry downtempo grooves, gave way to extended instrumental jams, which gave way to pastoral, folky acoustic, then led to intimate soulful vocal numbers, and finally at the end of the show to a soulful, funky collective dance vibe. The crowd was indeed quite enraptured at times, and the show definitely made up for their disappointing 2006 Virgin Festival set. While the studio may been Zero 7's foray into the music industry(as remixers), over the years and as displayed with this most recent Toronto gig, with a capable group of vocalists, Zero 7 has developed into a highly effective and enjoyable live act.
Photos: Zero 7, Body Language @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (December 3, 2009)
MySpace: Body Language
MySpace: Zero 7