ZZ Ward Captivates At First Avenue


The Super Bowl is finally over and downtown is finally starting to get back to normal. Sure, it was awesome to be part of it all but I was dying to go to a show at my home away from home surrounded by strangers that gave a damn about the music. That’s why, although I was tired after having a couple of nights off, I was ready for last night’s show at First Avenue.

The show kicked off right at 8 with Ontario native Billy Raffoul. I had never heard of the guy (at least I thought I hadn’t but then he played his hit song “Driver” that I’ve been known to scream along to in my car during rush hour) but I was instantly struck by his talent. Billy has a very raspy voice that somehow fits perfectly into the mainstream music out there. With resemblances to the great like Neil Young and Joe Cocker, Billy’s set was full of energy and an undeniable sense of conviction. At only 22 years old, Billy seems to be one of those “old soul” types. His lyrics (if you could hear them over the roaring crowd) seemed to hit a spot that gave me chills. That mixed with the way his voice made the hair on the back of my neck stand up led to a truly explosive opening set that was everything I could have asked for and then some.

As great as Billy Raffoul was, the show was a bit laid back and I could feel the yawns taking over me. After a quick visit to the bar, my friend/ photographer and I made our way back up to the stage and prepared for the next band. Neither us of really knew much about Black Pistol Fire but I also didn’t know much about Billy Raffoul so I was optimistic about what would happen next. That being said, I wasn’t prepared for what was going to hit the stage next and I can already tell you that the set from Black Pistol Fire will be in my top lists for the year and I knew that as soon as they exploded onto the stage

Black Pistol Fire is a duo from Canada and currently residing in Texas. Yes, you read that right, a duo had me stunned which- if you know me or have been reading my posts for awhile- you know that’s not usually my thing but this duo didn’t come off as a duo. I say they exploded onto the stage because that’s literally what they did. The two men walked up, took their spots on stage, and wasted no time jumping into their bluesy-rock-punk sound that seemed to catch the nearly sold out crowd off guard. The chatter that had been going on throughout Billy Raffoul’s set instantly subsided and was replaced and people dancing around with their eyes glued to the stage.

It was next to impossible to take your eyes off of singer/guitarist Kevin McKeown. I don’t think there was a single moment during their set where the guy was standing still. The way you could see him feel the music as he played had a way of making you feel the music. Their set was more than just listening, it was experiencing. There wasn’t an extravagant light show or a fancy back drop. It was literally just Kevin running around and drummer Eric Owen going at it behind the kit. I could go on and on about how truly electric their set was but this is one that you will just have to see for yourself. There are truly no words to describe what happened last night but I can tell you it’s something that I will never forget.

When their set was done, I was left pleading with higher beings for more from Black Pistol Fire. I honestly didn’t want them to leave the stage and, as much as I wanted to see headliner ZZ Ward, last night was not the night. I love ZZ and her jaw-dropping voice but she wasn’t going to be able to hold a candle to what Black Pistol Fire had just done. I almost felt bad for her because I knew no matter what she did, majority of this review and my recollection of the show would be of her openers but I seemed to be one of the only ones with that thought in my mind. As the stage was changed over, you could feel the anticipation grow throughout the older crowd. As the screen hiding the stage started moving up, the conversations in the crowd turned into a roar. At the first sight of ZZ Ward, the crowd erupted into cheers and whistles. Her smile lit up the room more than any of the spotlights could as she took her spot behind the microphone.

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go as planned for ZZ Ward and before she could even kick into a song technical difficulties seemed to get the best of her. After a couple of seconds of hesitation, she explained to the crowd that something was wrong so she was going to leave the stage and come back out. She asked the crowd to pretend like she had never come out on stage and, although the crowd seemed to go for it, I wasn’t having it. After about ten minutes of troubleshooting, ZZ Ward came back out to the same roar of applause as she had the first time she took the stage. Although there were still some issues here and there throughout her set, she and her band seemed to recover nicely and ended up giving the crowd a truly spectacular show. 

ZZ Ward’s set was full of songs from her new album “The Storm” that came out last June but she didn’t neglect her first album “Til The Casket Drops” from 2012. The nice thing about her music is how distinct it is. It’s more than just her beautiful voice that is enough to have your jaw on the ground, it’s her style. It’s not quite country and it’s not quite blues– it’s a unique blend of a little bit of everything sprinkled with a whole lot of charm and emotion. Much like the two previous acts, you could literally feel the music as she played through her length twenty plus song set. Even with so many songs to pump through, the set never really felt old or redundant. The way she kept the attention of the entire audience throughout the set is something to be admired.

My days of a clean apartment and social time with friends are coming to a close as shows start to pick up again. That’s not a complaint though (well, it is, but it isn’t). It’s nights like last night that make that pile of dishes in my sink and the overflowing dirty clothes hamper more than worth it. Don’t let the winter blues get to you– get out to a venue and see a show.