Live Review: Zu/Black Carrot

Live Review: Zu + Black Carrot
Venue: Borderline, London
Date: 20th April 2009

Zu have been my surprise discovery of the year – their new album received a favourable review, and since then I’ve enjoyed diving into its murky depths on a regular basis. So, there was no question of where I was going to be on the 20th April – in a downtrodden, cramped, smelly and overpriced basement in London. Black Carrot are on just before the headliners, and their bizarre sound receives a rather mixed reaction. The highlight is their wonderfully inventive rhythm section, including a drummer and what I suppose you could call percussionist, toying around with the beats to create a fun angle to their otherwise erratic sound. However, things are let down a great deal by vocalist/bassist Stewart Brackley whose vocal stylings are reminiscent of a white Eugene Robinson from Oxbow, but delivered in a much more hammy style. His overdramatic expressions are awkward, and come across as a man trying a little bit too hard to be mentally affected.

Italians Zu are in town supporting their recent release ‘Carboniferous’, an unmistakably cracking album, and as they stroll onto the Borderline’s rather lacklustre stage I find myself trying to control my anticipation. The album was great, but I wasn’t quite expecting them to be able to carry off its intricacies in a live setting. Well, serves me right for being such a cynical spanner, because tonight the trio are incredible.

Those who took to the new album are served well. The bowel-moving saxophone introduction to opener ‘Carbon’ signals the start of a set heavy on ‘Carboniferous’ material, and the most enjoyable aspect of the show is seeing the methods the band have taken to create the album’s unique sound.

Due to the intimacy of the venue I’m able to stand right in front of bassist Massimo Pupillo, who is absolutely mindboggling to watch. I’m not a bass player, but watching the expert precision with which he manoeuvred his fingers made for hypnotising viewing. It’s whilst standing this close to the artist that you realise the real complexity of what they’ve recorded, and what a feat it is to make it so damn groovy that it even attracts clearly underage girls to dance at the front uncontrollably (at least, I assume it was the music doing this, and not the Smirnoff Ice’s being thrown down their necks).

Despite the absence of label boss Mike Patton (who on the album guests on a couple of tracks) the band bravely unleashes a powerful vocal-less version of ‘Soulympics’, which sounds much better for the lack of Patton’s wailing and mumbling. And talking about wailing, Luca Mai’s lungs are phenomenal things – the man is at the forefront of every switch in tone with his commandeering baritone sax, that even challenges Pupillo’s bass for dominance.

To be honest, it should come as no surprise that the band is this tight. They’ve managed to play well over a thousand shows in the ten years they’ve existed as a band, and there’s an unmistakable sense of unity between the three members. Tonight is just proof of the old adage, practice makes perfect, because Zu’s performance is nigh on flawless.

Photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/37577542@N08/sets/72157618234507409/

Originally written for Sonic Dice.

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