Photos By Emily Cohen, Words By Kerri Pinchuk
Saturday was a busy one at the 9:30 Club. The early show was a three-for-one blowout, kicking off with James Bay, then the Wild Feathers, before headliner ZZ Ward.
ZZ Ward. Singer. Songwriter. Soul sista. Free People catalog model come to life. Girlfriend is only 25 years old and she sings the blues with the attitude and “chill-inducing” vocals (Rolling Stone) of a scorned lover, a been-around-the-block diva who’s seen it all. And then writes about it.
ZZ (real name Zsuzsanna) joined her first band with her dad at age 12, cutting her teeth on Albert King and other blues greats. She grew up borrowing her brother’s Jay-Z and Nas records, and fell in love with hip-hop. And she has that bipolar combo to thank for her scores of devoted fans, young and old, in addition to rave reviews from critics. ZZ released her debut EP, “Criminal,” in May 2012, collaborated with names like Kendrick Lamar, Passion Pit, and Fitz (sans the Tantrums), made the festival rounds through summer ‘13, and landed in our backyard this month—just one year after releasing her debut album, Till the Casket Drops. Whew.
“When you first hear her music you might think it’s Adele, but keep listening — there’s a blues, rock and hip-hop flavor,” writes the New York Times. Critics obviously rave about her vocal chops, comparing her voice to iconic powerhouses like Tina Turner, Aretha, and Etta James. But again, it’s her unique blending of genres that’s truly alluring. It allows for those cool, aforementioned collaborations, and provides foundation for a cache of songs that range from melancholy, classic blues tunes like “Last Love Song,” to the upbeat R&B jams like “Put the Gun Down” you’re probably hearing on the radio.
At Saturday’s show, she unleashed all of her most popular songs, which, if we’re going to be honest, pretty much comprised all of her songs. Because, well, one album. Regardless, fans could not have been happier to hear and scream along with their favorite songs (“365 Days,” “Last Love Song,” “Put the Gun Down,” “Charlie Ain’t Home”).
I spoke with two crowd members who have different takes on our girl ZZ. One of them, we’ll call him Eddie, is quite possibly ZZ Ward’s #1 fan. The other, known here as Steve, is still figuring out his feelings.
How did you first discover ZZ Ward?
Eddie: I used to sing in an a cappella group in college. Last year the group came down and a few of the alums (including yours truly) went to see the show. After the show, the group ran a workshop for their all-girls group and they were doing a song called “Bottom of the River” by Delta Rae. One Spotify playlist later, I was rocking out with Selah Sue, ZZ Ward, and Delta Rae. Then came Firefly…and boom!
Steve: I [also] first saw ZZ Ward at Firefly this past summer. I listened to a few of her songs before the festival, but I wasn’t too familiar with her music. I don’t remember much from her set, except that she was wearing one of those floppy hats and black-and-white zebra/referee pants.
What are your favorite songs? Did she play them?
Eddie: My favorite songs are probably “365 Days,” “Put the Gun Down,” and “Til The Casket Drops.” And I believe she did play them but don’t quote me on that [she did]. “Morphine is also good…but I don’t believe she played that [she didn’t]. I think it’s gonna come out on her new album.
Steve: My favorite song is “Blue Eyes Blind,” and she did play it.
What did you do to physically and mentally prepare for the show? Any special pre-ZZ rituals?
Eddie: I got ready by rocking out to her stuff over the days leading up to the show…especially in my car. Oh! And then pregaming with my homies.
Steve: Do pulled pork nachos and pickleback shots from a bar around the corner count?
Love her or hate her, are there any moments from the show stand out for you?
Eddie: Probably dancing in the front row to “Blue Eyes Blind.” I think I even got a picture of that…
Steve: I really liked when she played the harmonica. It’s not every day that you get to hear a good mouth organ, and she definitely did it justice. I was impressed.
What about any least favorite moments?
Eddie: Definitely losing my phone. And paying my bar tab. Somehow I racked up more than $120. Oops.
Steve: She told a quick story before “Last Love Song” about how she came up with the title for the song. I thought it was cheesy and couldn’t help but roll my eyes. I had to double check that I wasn’t at a Taylor Swift show.
As I was leaving the venue, someone behind me proclaimed that ZZ was “way better” than Grace Potter. I think that ZZ has a great voice, but a neat bluesy sound and a track with Kendrick Lamar does not elevate you to goddess status.
Let’s say ZZ is an avid reader of Brightest Young Things. If you could say one thing to her, what would it be?
Eddie: Please come back to DC! And get that new album out ASAP!
Steve: More cowbell? Just kidding. I’d tell her that I think she’s incredibly talented.