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Zero 7: Caught Live at Shepherd's Bush Empire (2006)

Zero 7

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

HOT off the back of the release of The Garden, their third studio album, Zero 7 played to a packed Shepherd’s Bush Empire on Saturday night (June 3, 2006) and succeeded in producing some breathtaking moments.

But as good as some individual moments undoubtedly were, there were a few minor niggles that may have left fans disappointed.

The Garden, for instance, is an album that marks a more upbeat progression for Sam Hardaker and Henry Binns but at the same time, it has been produced without the help of notable past collaborators Mozez, Tina Dico or Sophie Barker.

Hence, any track that they would normally have featured upon was left off the set list – which meant there was no room for classic cuts such as I Have Seen or In The Waiting Line.

Sia Furler, the ray of Australian sunshine that continues to enliven many a Zero 7 number, was present and correct, as was newcomer Jose Gonzales. But while the latter certainly helped to create some of the night’s memorable set pieces, his decision to sit down for most of his appearances came at a cost to smaller members of the crowd, many of whom were forced to stand on tip-toe just to catch a glimpse of who was singing.

Indeed, were it not for the effervescent presence of the impossibly irresistible Furler (whose giddy smile is truly infectious), Zero 7 would represent a curiously lacklustre stage presence, especially since many of the guest musicians were located towards the back of the stage.

That said, the night did succeed in showcasing the mellow magic that lies in wait for anyone who has yet to buy The Garden, as well as some truly chilled out efforts that made perfect listening for a hot Saturday night (the hottest of the year so far!).

Hence, for all of the quibbles, there was no doubting the quality of tracks like Throw It All Away or You’re My Flame, which effortlessly combine Furler’s mesmerising vocals with some slicker, more jolly beats.

The distinct vocals of Gonzales, too, ensured that his collaborations – most notably Futures and Crosses – resonated strongly. More mellower than Furler’s numbers, they provide a strong showcase of Jose’s excellent acoustic guitar playing, which was backed by Binns’ equally striking guitar work.

Whenever Jose or Sia took a break, however, Zero 7 lacked much stage presence and some of their instrumentals (or extended jamming sessions), struggled to hold the attention as much as they might.

But as previously mentioned, there were several moments to savour.

Primary among these was The Pageant of the Bizarre, an absolute daydream of a track that was beautifully delivered by Furler’s aching vocals – her husky delivering of “catch a falling star, you’ll go far” washed over the crowd like a lovely breeze.

While a jazzed up instrumental of Give It All Away, from the debut album, was nicely disguised and refreshingly delivered, providing another strong showcase of Binns’ instrumental skills.

Furler, once again, passionately delivered Distractions in heartbreaking style, practically screaming out the “I love you” chorus as though her life really depended on it.

And Gonzales delivered a similarly enchanting piece of acoustic virtuosity on the intimate Left Behind – although, sadly, the attention span of a significant proportion of the people around me meant that you could hear talking.

But the absolute highlight was final track Somersault, the only track to emerge from second LP When It Falls, which was delivered by Furler and Binns on their own – his mellow acoustic guitar chords providing a perfectly dreamy backdrop to Furler’s crisp vocals.

As if to emphasise the infectious nature of her stage persona, Furler even responded to the crowd’s request of dancing the Macarana combined with some body-popping during Binns’ solo. It was a lovely moment that brought the night to a cheerful finale.