There was little space to move in NYC’s Irving Plaza on Thursday night, where a tangle of fans were pushing toward the front of the stage not long after doors opened, intent upon securing good spots for the three strong acts who’d be performing. If you were one of the attendees who’d scored some vinyl at the long and tempting table of merch, you surely found it more difficult to protect in this crowd, and probably had to hold it over your head early on – a good problem to have thanks to opener Billy Raffoul, who really packed the place early and brought a rock-solid set. The Ontario-based musician delivered a wide-ranging dose of his rugged vocals and nimble guitar work to the receptive ears in the room – and the response was great for standouts like “Little Girl,” “Driver,” “Running Wild,” and “You Be Love.”
Showing everyone what a shot of adrenaline to the chest might feel like, Black Pistol Fire absolutely tore up their set, spanning their impressive discography and digging into the deadliest riffs of their latest record, last year’s Deadbeat Graffiti (“Lost Cause” and “Speak of the Devil,” we’re looking at you). Instantly shirtless and all but splintering sticks with each impact, drummer Eric Owen destroyed his drum licks and built a playground of complex rhythms for frontman Kevin McKeown to explore. As always, the singer and guitarist didn’t waste a moment of their time or a square foot of his space – McKeown not only singing like liquid, molten gold, but shredding down on his knees, using Owen’s bass drum like a diving board, and crowd-surfing mid-solo without disrupting a single searing note. Just like the last time we caught them (at the Bowery in October), Black Pistol Fire instilled the unshakable feeling that what they’re doing is one of the best things happening in rock right now; like hot embers over a pool of gasoline, about to erupt in a skyline-altering fire.
The night’s much-loved headliner, ZZ Ward, was floating on a cloud of affectionate cheers within moments of entering, and you could tell she was feeling the love from her New York City fans, strutting the stage and bringing a badass edge to her bold strumming and singing. In a wide-brimmed black hat and cool silver suit that reflected the spotlight and strobes, the Oregon-raised songstress announced early on that she would perform “lots of songs” from her first album (2012’s Til the Casket Drops), second album (last year’s The Storm), and even her mixtape (2011’s Eleven Roses). The memorable singer (who, in fact, played a Whiskey Session for us back in 2015) delivered upon her promise in a late-rocking set that kept the crowd equal parts airborne and on their toes. Even her smallest motions held their gaze and prompted sudden cheers, whether she was owning the stage in a fiery vocal passage, or simply plucking a hole-punched Everly pick from her mic stand to strum.
Between tastes of ZZ Ward’s vibrant, pop-infused take on a smoldering blues rock sound, she was smiling ear to ear, as if she couldn’t conceal how much fun she was having. And for any fans who found it hard to see her go, she sweetened the deal. In a well-timed treat for the Irving crowd, a pre-announced release – featuring some new versions of her song, “Domino” – was due that very night at 12am our time (9pm PST), so those at her NYC show had a little something extra to look forward to when they returned home.
Author: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley