Halfway through ZZ Ward‘s set, she had the whole crowd singing along to “Charlie Ain’t Home,” a song in which she describes as too “sexy” and maybe a bit too promiscuous for a fan who said the song culminated in marriage. But for blues-rock singer ZZ Ward, it’s been a longtime coming since she last played in the Bay Area.
Four years since bringing along singer-songwriter sensation James Bay (before the world knew who he was) and indie folk group The Wild Feathers as opening acts, ZZ welcomed in a sold-out crowd at San Francisco‘s The Independent last Thursday night, with an opening set by new blues artist Earl St. Clair. ZZ was nothing but smiles as she brought back her “dirty shine.”
“Dirty shine,” a term ZZ coined as embracing her true authentic self when it comes to her music — a unique blend of blues, rock, hip-hop and pop — is something that sets ZZ apart from many artists today.
Opening up with a drum-heavy blues number in which she sings, “Say goodbye, goodbye to everything / Make love to you / And I’m dancing on our grave,” ZZ was back in her element. Her blue-eyed soul voice, full and deep and tinged with attitude, excited the crowd as she presented “Ghost” off her upcoming album The Storm dropping this June 30.
Following with hit singles “Put The Gun Down” and “‘Til The Casket Drops,” she exclaimed, “It’s been a long time San Francisco.”
“I’ve been in hibernation,” she explained to the crowd, many of whom donned familiar fedora hats in the style of ZZ herself. She’s spent the past few years working hard on her followup to her debut 2012 album ‘Til The Casket Drops and was more than excited to be playing to a room full of listeners old and new, ready to dance and mouthing back every word.
Interchanging between acoustic and electric guitars and moments in which she would sit lone on her stool, posing and making her way around the chair, she sang a sultry “Lil Darlin,'” which put everyone in the room into a heated moment.
“Oh, please, please, please / Quit dragging my heart through them coals,” ZZ sang as a deep “ooh-ooh” played over the speakers. “Oh, please, please, please / Stop trying to fix it ’cause, baby, it’s broke,” she continued.
ZZ also presented her new single “Cannonball,” a song which features Oakland native and blues music aficionado Fantastic Negrito (who unfortunately was not present to make an appearance). She also performed “Charlie Ain’t Home,” an acoustic-bluesy number off her debut album before going into songs like “Marry Well,” the dance-inducing “Move Like U Stole it” and toothy love song “Blue Eyes Blind.”
“Man this is a party,” ZZ said into the crowd, hand on hip and in complete awe. “Where’s your introduction, shit?”
ZZ introduced her band with mini solos as she closed with newly-released “Help Me Mama.” She prefaced her closing number “365 Days” by assuring the crowd: “If there’s someone in your life that you’re like, ‘Geez, I think I deserve better,’ it’s because you do. Don’t do what I did when I wrote this song and put up with someone’s shit for way too long!”
The crowd was all love for ZZ and she clearly felt it. Excited to get back on the road and present old and new material, ZZ’s infectious blues-rock tunes and blue-eyed-soul shined. She was clearly missed in the Bay. With such a versatile voice, exciting style and unmistakable talent, things can only look up for ZZ. She’s definitely an artist you should watch — you’re bound to find something that makes you want to dance, groove or get a little angsty to. And I find that’s what blues music is all about.
ZZ Ward's The Storm (2017) drops June 30 and is available for preorder. Be sure to also check out her debut album Til The Casket Drops (2012). Keep up with ZZ at zzward.com.
This article was featured on SFCritic.com.