ZZ Ward hasn’t lived in Pennsylvania since she was 6 years old, but you never would have guessed from the warm reception she received at World Cafe Live on Tuesday night. It was the eclectic pop singer’s first time headlining Philadelphia, and it certainly felt like a hometown show: the crowd screamed for each Bucks County reference, the singer worked the enthusiastic front row with a smile like she was playing for old neighbors, and the vibe was generally warm and celebratory.
Ward’s debut LP Til The Casket Drops was released on October 16, and it’s an unusual and insanely catchy mix of styles. Her voice undeniably draws from the singer-songwriter soul revival of recent years, but there’s also a clubby dance-pop pace to it, as well as moments that veer in an edgier direction – lightly towards hiphop and deeply toward blues. In concert, Ward translated the songs with a tremendously tight three-piece band (and the help of a few tracks on a laptop). They hammered away at the opening “Put The Gun Down,” which launched seamlessly into the jangling piano of the title track. Out the gate, Ward’s voice worked an impressive Tina Turner-style wail that barely let down over the hour-long set.
That elastic vocal ability might just be her biggest strength, paralleled only by a knack for hooks. “Criminal” matches a cool reggae beat with a soaring soul refrain, while the Mark Ronson-esque encore “Blue Eyes Blind” was probably playing on repeat in the heads of the crowd as they made their way home. Ward went acoustic and harmonica-fied for “Charlie Ain’t Home,” part of the show’s bluesy centerpiece (and one of the set’s many, many songs she introduced with a dig at whatever guy went and done her wrong). This also included a cover of Son House’s “Grinnin’ In Your Face,” which might have been a bit too cool for the room, but was great all the same.
And then there are the moments that Ward doesn’t even pretend she’s drawing from a deep library of blues connoisseurism. “Last Love Song” a universal slow dance song, the stuff of movie trailers and TV dramas – it’s pure pop, and it sounds huge. This show might just be an early step in a blossoming stage career for Ward. But when The Key interviewed her last week, she said that if she wasn’t going to be a singer, she would be a songwriter – and it sounds like she’s got that in the bag too.
Put The Gun Down
Til The Casket Drops
Got It Bad
Save My Life
Last Love Song
Charlie Ain’t Home
Grinnin’ In Your Face (Son House cover)
If I Could Be Her
Move Like U Stole It
Blue Eyes Blind
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