BOOT - - - MUSIC
Zuzu leads a Scouse takeover in Manchester & showcases her debut album to a sold out Deaf Institute
Zuzu has been at the forefront of Merseyside's thriving scene in the past few years that has seen the likes of The Mysterines, Red Rum Club, PIXEY, STONE and more gather national attention. After years plugging away with live shows, signing with Virgin and then jumping in the deep end going independent on her own Planet Z Records. Through all her ups and downs the quality of her music and live performance has never slipped, perhaps because her infectiously bright personality shines through in everything she does. Last month she finally reached the point that she has been working towards for so long and released her debut album 'Queensway Tunnel'. I headed down to the penultimate night of her album tour at Manchester's Deaf Institute to see the new record in the flesh.
Photo by @abbiejennings.co.uk
Zuzu arrived armed with two more Merseyside based artists to facilitate the Scouse takeover in Manchester. Indie RnB star iamkyami and Singer Songwriter Sophie Morgan initiated the crowd with two fantastic sets before Zuzu took the stage in front of a sold out room. She fulfilled her promise of performing "an old one then a new one" darting between her latest album tracks and some of her first ever singles. The sing-a-long coming-of-age tales of 'Beauty Queen' gelled seamlessly together with the overtly Scouse orientated Indie-Pop of 'Timing' creating a super slick and cohesive set. Musically, the blend worked perfectly with the drums ramped up to offer a more energetic live edge, the backing harmonies being mastered by the whole band and Zuzu injecting each and every track with her vibrant Scouse swagger. Yet, what was most striking was the report between her and the audience.
From the first second she dismantled any wall between fan and artist which led to a refreshingly laid back environment that suited the honest, personal content of her new album. It really felt like it was just a bunch of friends all on a night out together but one of them happened to be a fucking great musician and was treating us to an early Christmas present with a festive performance. The conversational tone in which she spoke made fans feel comfortable enough to join in with a few questions about her beloved Jordan Pickford and the odd Manc vs Scouser jibe asking her to play 'Wonderwall'.
As she powered through a good portion of her album it became apparent that this kind of night would not have been possible when she was on a major label. Although she has never let anyone dilute her bubbling personality, I really can't see that she would have been writing songs as personal as 'Timing', as niche as 'Toaster' or as localised as 'Bevy Head' unless she was doing things DIY. Aside from my own bias of relating to the local mentions of the River Mersey and the Queensway Tunnel these song titles and subject matter go a long way to revealing Zuzu's own character which is essential in the live setting. You don't turn up to a show to hear a string of songs played to perfection so that they sound like the recorded version. You go to see the songs played on a raw and honest level with the style, performance and personality of the artist elevating the impact of each track. Thus, the personal content of these new tracks aided Zuzu in offering all of these things.
The introspection and personal emotion that is in these songs also means that she performed them with a staggering level of attachment. Whether it was the blissful swing of her romantic ballad 'Endlessly Yours' or the angsty heartbreak of the title track 'Queensway Tunnel' she delivered them with an explicit level of emotional intensity. She even had to step away from the mic at one moment as she was pouring so much emotion in that she couldn't get one of the lines out! 'Never Again' in particular was about as emotionally expressive as a live track can get. The super tight instrumentals provided great dynamics for the song, sometimes cutting out to leave emphasis for Zuzu's acoustics and vocals and at other times forming a crashing wall of sound in an attempt to compete with the visceral vocal performance in front of them. Zuzu sang with a passion and performed with a vulnerability that is hard to come by. She threw her whole body into it and as she lunged towards the mic with a combination of pleading and angst her expression showed the internal hurt.
I have found myself, as I always do when talking about Zuzu, focusing largely on the emotional and personal elements of her as an artist. I must emphasise that musically the show was fantastic. Tracks like 'My Old Life' highlighted her impressive vocal range whilst her backing band infused the set with an added dose of high energy to get the crowd moving. Guitarist Julia Lamb (also Tom Grennan's bassist) stood out at some points providing a few crisp solo moments as well as mastering the legendary guitar line on the fan favourite 'All Good'. However, it was and is undoubtedly Zuzu's personality and charisma that wins her so many fans and on the night she was completely true to herself. It was intimate in terms of atmosphere yet anthemic in terms of performance. Her band nailed there roles but let Zuzu lead the charge and wear her heart on her sleeve with an emotional performance that was refreshingly unfiltered and hugely memorable.