By: Kevin Rolfe
Back in 2012, I was at the concert of a band (who shall remain nameless) who was huge that year. Their songs were on the charts, they were all over TV and everybody seemed to really like them. Obviously I liked them, I was at their concert. But I remember leaving the venue and running into a former coworker. I asked him if he liked the concert and he stated that he wasn’t at that concert but at the venue nearby seeing ZZ Ward. I knew the name but wasn’t familiar with her music. He stated that he could hear the concert I was at through the wall dividing the venues. He then mentioned, “Sounds like it was a good time.” But he said it in a tone that let me know, it wasn’t as good as his show. ZZ Ward was playing in a smaller, more intimate venue so I thought, “There’s no way that show was better than mine!” Well in the following days, I heard people at other shows I was attending and posts online mentioning how amazing that ZZ Ward show was. All this time later, I wished I could have seen her in that tiny no longer used venue. Finally, on March 2 I was able to see what all the fuss was about.
It was clear that the fans were excited. I walked into the Grand Room of The Complex and made my way to the pit where I’d be shooting the beginning of the concert. I spoke to some fans along the railing of the front barricade. I like to get a gauge on their excitement level versus how tired they are from having to have shown up early to get such a primo spot on the floor. There was a variety of really young people surprisingly mixed with people in their fifties and sixties. I asked a few people how early they had to show up to get in line to be in the front. Some had been in line for hours and others didn’t have to wait long because they had purchased the meet and greet package. They shared with me that ZZ Ward was so kind and the experience of meeting her was one of their “most favorite experiences ever!”. I know that these artists get paid to do these meet and greets, but they could so easily be quick and cold in that setting. I love hearing when they’re genuine and warm like it sounds ZZ was to them.
The band was on stage and the audience cheered as ZZ Ward joined them. Ward opened her set with her soulful 2019 single “Sex & Stardust”. The tone was set and things warmed up quickly inside The Grand. Ward’s live vocals impressed immediately. She seemed so focused and intent on giving a great performance. She didn’t say much and the transitions between songs were quick. There was just enough time to switch out guitars with the guitar tech and then they were off into the next song. I didn’t mind it. I was anxious to see how she was going to top each previous performance. She did take time to mention that we have such a good energy in this city.
I was a bit surprised to hear ZZ Ward perform “Put the Gun Down” third in her set. The song is arguably her most recognized song. I was still in the pit taking photos (We usually leave after the third song). I was so excited to still be that close to the stage for this song. I felt a roar from the crowd rush to the stage like a wave in the ocean building then crashing on the shore. I felt myself tumbling in the massive rush of energy and had to keep reminding myself to just keep taking pictures. If you can imagine, not only am I in front of the front row, feeling the heightened emotion of the crowd, excited to be hearing one of their very favorite ZZ Ward songs, but I’m also looking through a lens seeing up close the passion that Ms. Ward is giving back to the crowd. It was an incredible thing to be in the middle of.
It was fun to hear “Ride” which was featured in the Disney/ Pixar film, Cars 3. The song was released as a duet with Gary Clark Jr. It’s a great track. However, I enjoyed this live version. It was great to hear what ZZ did with it as a solo performance.
I love the mix of Soul and Rock elements that are in Ward’s music. She clearly has the chops for both. She got things real sultry during “Lil’ Darlin”. Then she impressed the crowd with a couple of new unreleased tracks. I love it when an artist performs previously unheard music and it’s well received by the crowd. And if these songs are an indicator of what’s going to be on the new album, I think ZZ Ward has an exceptional LP coming.
A roadie brought out a barstool and ZZ Ward was left on stage alone for an acoustic set. Before she started this portion of the show Ward addressed the audience. “I’ve got one question to ask you. Are you feeling Sexy?” I’m sure it’s no surprise that the amorous crowd responded in the affirmative. Ward showed her range in this acoustic set. She’s an incredible performer. No real setup to speak of. The lights are simple but effective. What made this show so incredible was the talent of ZZ Ward and her excellent band. She asked us if we were having a good time. Again, I’m sure you know the answer to that question. Ward stated, “So am I. You guys are a real treat tonight!”.
As amazing as the evening was, especially for a Monday night, things went up a notch when Ward performed “Move Like U Stole It”. It was like someone flipped a switch. Everyone inside the venue, including ZZ Ward seemed to just go off. It was a pretty fun thing to watch. I’m not sure if people just had some Monday blues to shake off, but no one seemed to have a care in the world at this point. Ward had to even comment on it saying, “I feel so good about you guys! I love your energy so much!”.
ZZ Ward returned from her encore and performed her 2020 single “The Dark”. The verdict is still out, but this may have been my favorite song of the night. If you haven’t heard it yet, I highly recommend checking it out. She followed the new single with a couple of clear crowd favorites “Cannonball” and “Blue Eyes Blind”. I love three song encores. You can play a newer song and the audience will forgive it because you can follow it with a couple of favorites. Perfect planning on Ward’s part.
I left the show kicking myself for waiting so long to see ZZ Ward in concert. I hope those who read this and enjoy her do not make my mistake. You are guaranteed to be impressed and come away with a new appreciation for ZZ Ward and her music.