Zeus @ the Biltmore, Vancouver, May 26th 2012
You know that time when you buy an album and fall in love with it and the band/artist? And then you check out the rest of their music and you fall deeper and deeper in love with them? Then you find out they’re coming to play a show at a nearby venue, and you buy tickets because, “Obviously,” and then you go to the show?
And you leave the show sorely disappointed by the band’s weak performance and unimpressive sound as a live, cohesive unit?
Well that’s the total opposite of my experience with the fanciful Toronto-based rock outfit, Zeus who rocked the Biltmore Cabaret in Vancouver this past weekend. I half expected—and I don’t know why—to leave disappointed with their show. Didn’t happen. Not even close.
For those who don’t know, Zeus, by name, is a relatively “new” band; however, the most of the band members have been together for quite some time, backing the delightful Jason Collett (Broken Social Scene) for several years. I dare to equate them to a lesser The Band, who backed Bob Dylan in the mid-to-late ’60s before venturing on their own and becoming a Canadian staple in classic rock history (see: The Last Waltz, for a definitive example).
But I digress…
Typically, most shows I see at the Biltmore—or anywhere downtown—don’t begin til roughly 9:30, so considering there was only one opener, the fantastic and local Wake Owl, I definitely figured getting to the venue by 9:20 would be a safe bet. I was dreadfully wrong. I was informed by a cohort that Wake Owl had already performed, and as that sentence finished, the lights dimmed in the Biltmore and the curtains opened to reveal the 4-piece of talented whacks, who are Zeus.
The boys kicked open their set with the slow-burning builder, How Does It Feel? and never looked back. The evening was packed with energy, humour, surprises, and best of all, amazingly tight, quality tunes. I’m not even going to lie, this set list was as good as it possibly could have been and better than I had anticipated (see bottom of post for set list).
The magic of Zeus is their classic rock vibe that is so wonderfully transposed to 2012 without any gimmicks. Not only that, but the precision and quality of that vibe from album to live performance is impeccable. It’s impressive enough to craft that precision into your live show, but then add energy, performance and some wonderful musical improvisation and you have a live show that is unsurpassed.
Another indication of a good night is when 3 of the 4 band members (O’Brien, Nicholson, Quin) can proficiently play and exchange organ for bass guitar for electric guitar between almost every song. Oh – and the same 3 members all sing, taking turns crooning to the crowd or ensuring the backing vocal harmonies are spot on. I’ve left out Robbie Drake on drums as he stayed put all night behind his kit, but was explosively tight and truly anchored the whole band throughout the 17-song set.
This impeccable live show really stepped up to the plate and knocked one out of the park when Dan Mangan was invited up on stage to help belt out Fever of the Time. The local hero is a crowd-pleaser no doubt, and anyone in attendance who was waiting to be won over by Zeus would have likely been converted right then and there.
For obvious reasons, this tune with Mr. Mangan was a standout from the evening; other standouts include the mind-obliterating Strong Mind, Love/Pain, Hello Tender Love, The Renegade, Heavy On Me and the entire 3-song encore which featured a cool tune I lack the name of (not found on any albums, to my knowledge), At the Risk of Repeating, as well as the tubular Genesis cover, That’s All, which can be found on their Sounds Like Zeus EP.
I was floored by this fantastic show at this fantastic venue and surprised the venue wasn’t sold out (unless it was..). Considering their respectable past, these 4 musicians are tremendously humble and swagger-free, leaving no riff unturned and no head un-bobbed.
Most importantly, the boys from Zeus are writing and playing tunes for themselves first. Tunes they love, tunes that turn their crank—and it just so happens those tunes turn quite a few other cranks, mine included. ”How does it feel?” they ask in the set opener. It feels pretty damn good, thank you very much.