Review by Christina Preiss
Lucky me, I got to spend a Monday night at one of my favorite venues, the Belly Up in Solana Beach. This place has the best acoustics and laid back vibe! When I walked inside 30 minutes after the doors opened, it looked more like BB King was playing than ZZ Ward. I have to give the credit to the locals in this area for knowing who the next big thing will be. Every table was full and there was already a large crowd in front of the stage. Although, the atmosphere was a bit odd with a basketball game being projected onto a giant screen by the stage while a sexually explicit rap song was blaring on the sound system.
The clock turned 8pm and with that came the arrival of a dapper gentleman complete with a fedora and carrying a Corona in hand. He took a seat near the front of the stage and laid his guitar down on his lap. His name was Martin Harley and as soon as he spoke, you knew he was an Englishman. He told the crowd that he had just come from Las Vegas and he was not sure if he did Vegas or Vegas did him…I imagine most people have that feeling after a trip to Sin City. Along with his incredibly gifted slide guitar skills, he had a powerful commanding voice and was very easy on the eyes. He played a song called “Cardboard King” that brought a tear to my eye. Another crowd favorite was “Honey Bee”, everyone was clapping along and stomping their feet. It is amazing how Martin was able to command an audience that most likely had never heard of him before. Next he played a song called “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and in true English fashion he cheekily dedicated it to himself. At this point I am wondering why this guy isn’t headlining. The crowd was screaming and hollering at a complete stranger. It seemed to be some sort of cruel joke that he wasn’t already famous. Amidst my confusion and contemplation, Martin played his final number, a cover of “Chocolate Jesus” by Tom Waits. Martin said, “I believe this to be a song about immaculate confection” at which point the crowd erupted into laughter. The song was a show stopper and it blew the roof off of the Belly Up. I don’t usually write this much about the first act out of 3, but this man definitely deserves it.
As the stage was being changed over I quickly became confused. There was one large illuminated drum in the middle of the stage with the name DELTA RAE on it, a trash can placed to the side that was reminiscent of STOMP, tamborines, eggshakers, a piano, etc. Shortly thereafter, the 6 people known as Delta Rae took the stage, 3 of them obviously siblings. The guitarist and sometimes vocalist was a dead ringer for Woody Harelson and I couldn’t get past that fact for the entirety of their set. I kept feeling he was going to start singing about raw food or something. Don’t get me wrong, they were a very talented and tight band, but the movements felt more choreographed than organic. They were very familiar to me as they reminded me of my Southern Baptist roots and I couldn’t get the idea that I was in a church service out of my head. I met a woman in the front row and she said, “with the exception of the song that the blond girl sang, I would expect to see this band in a musical or at Disneyland. They didn’t make me “feel” anything although they were really talented. I had a very similar feeling. However, if it had been my show, I would have watched Martin twice. But, it wasn’t my show and it was clear that there were a lot of Delta Rae fans in the crowd and that they were really enjoying the show. Two of the most popular songs were “Carry the Fire” and “Dance in the Graveyard”. At the end of their set, the band decided to walk down into the crowd to perform their last song. However, the people that encircled them had more of a puzzled look on their faces than anything else. I have seen punk rock singers perform from the pit and it is amazing, but this particular attempt didn’t work for me.
I was really excited that it was finally time for Miss ZZ Ward. She walked out on stage with wearing a fedora embellished with playing cards, boots and a large helpin’ of New Orleans attitude. In the South we like to pronounce “N’ Awlins.” She was unconventionally beautiful and a breath of fresh air compared to all the pop tarts that use sex appeal to sell their music. Her backup band were all young, African-American men, that were the epitome’ of cool in their dark sunglasses and baseball caps. ZZ didn’t talk to the crowd too much, but she was incredibly gracious and repeatedly thanked everyone for coming out. The first 3 songs were high energy and they she slowed it down and sat on a stool. ZZ introduced the next song as being a song about a real bad guy, but she got rid of his ass and got a good song out of it. She owned every song and they were imbued with a sense of genuineness and authenticity. She said she grew up listening to Etta James and one particular song called “Waiting for Charlie”. ZZ did her own version written as an answer to James’s song, called “Charlie Ain’t Home”. Instead of waiting for Charlie, her song was about making love when Charlie wasn’t home. She asked the crowd to snap their fingers and not to worry because nobody was looking at them since everyone was looking at her. The atmosphere in the Belly Up got sexy with a quickness and the crowd happily sang along during the chorus. She paused to allow the crowd to yell, Charlie Ain’t Home!”. It was such a soulful song and you couldn’t help but shake your head and tap your feet. Just as I was thinking to myself, “Damn this girl can sing!” someone in the crowd yelled, “Oceanside loves you!”
Then the drummer was pumping his fist into the air as they moved into Ward’s most popular song, Put the Gun Down. She explained that the next song was about letting go of love when you least expect it and that it was a song that she was not prepared to write. Interesting she had what could be described as a female mosh pit right in the front. There wasn’t a man in sight and the women were chanting along to every song in a way that was reminiscent of Alanis Morrisette’s, You Outta Know.” ZZ easily transitioned from playing guitar and singing, to singing on her own, to playing keyboard and even played harmonica on a song called “If I Could Be Her”. She said she had learned to play harmonica from her Dad in New Orleans and she seemed as if she was battling the guitarist through the entire song. ZZ commented that the next song was perfect since we were in a bar and this song was about that guy or girl that drank a little too much, is talking a little too much and you know that they are full of shit. The song was called Cryin’ Wolf. Her band messed up and started playing something very different, but she took that mistake in stride. She introduced “Criminal” by saying, “This is a song about a guy that treated me no good, and it broke my heart. Drive it home for me San Diego!” The last song, “Move”, was full of floor tom and bass drum and the whole crowd was clapping their hands and stomping their feet. Before the encore, ZZ came over to the edge of the stage and high-fived every fan within her reach including myself. I am sold on ZZ Ward. She is one of my absolute favorite new artists and the next big thing ladies and gents.
Martin has a new record out called Mojo Fix and a few other cds that you can find on iTunes. His band website is www.martinharleyband.com. Harley can also be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/martinharleyband. Delta Rae just released their debut album “Carry the Fire”. You can connect with them on Facebook atwww.facebook.com/deltarae or on their website www.deltarae.com. ZZ Ward’s debut album “Til the Casket Drops” is available on iTunes and you can check her out on her official website www.zzward.com. Her Facebook page is www.facebook.com/ZZWard. She is currently co-headlining the Fire and Shine tour with Delta Rae until March 11, 2013 when it concludes in her hometown New Orleans.