Saw ZZ Ward on 5/18/18 in Austin at Emo's.
First of all, never miss the opening act, you never know what you might miss. Opening for ZZ Ward was the trio consisting of brothers from the UK with an American drummer called the Ruen Brothers. They were a blast.
I don't know how to exactly to describe what they did. It was kind of a rockabilly/country/California surf punk/50s/Brit pop mashup. Go figure. I'd never heard any of their songs before, as I'm sure a large percentage of the crowd had not, but they kept everyone engaged throughout their 40 minute set.
To me, that's what separates the good live entertainers from the bad; if no one knows the songs, is the crowd still engaged? They did that.
I'm a recent fan of ZZ Ward since hearing her most recent album The Storm, which I wrote about.
Ward is an exceptional performer, vocally fantastic with her unique voice, playing harmonica, guitar and keys at various points throughout the show. She transitioned smoothly between full band and acoustic, blues and beats.
I'l admit, I'm not fully versed in her full catalog, but the songs I didn't recognize had me just as engaged as the songs I was familiar with. See above, but to me, that's what makes an artist truly great in a live setting.
Ward is heavily influenced by the blues, and that is where she and her band really shined. More blues rock than straight blues, but her set was heavy in that area and the crowd (and I) really dug that.
I understand the draw to recreate the album as close as possible, but the only criticism I have of the show is the use of pre-recorded music for a few songs. She, and her band, are good enough to pull off the songs without it. It was obvious, and they didn't try to hide it. It did not take away from the enjoyment of most patrons, but as a music nerd, it bothered me. I'd rather hear a stripped down version of the song than trying to emulate the album exactly, but that's just me.
Other than that, the show was awesome. She commands the stage. Her band is fantastic. Packed in the music, not much banter, one song to the next. You get your money's worth at a ZZ Ward show.