ZEUS at AGO, Thursday, May 2. Rating: NNN
On Thursday, Zeus performed a set of beautiful retro-rock slow burners at the Art Gallery of Ontario's 1st Thursdays - a monthly event where booze, food and music merge for one mean after-gallery-hours party.
The evening was a departure from the gigs Zeus usually plays, but they looked at home in the middle of Walker Court, underneath the Frank Gehry-designed, sculptural, spiralling staircase. The four-piece opened with a slow ditty, with just a couple of guitars and Carlin Nicholson, Mike O'Brien and Neil Quin sharing a microphone. Initially, the sold-out crowd seemed distracted and inattentive, but halfway through the hour-long set, the guys cranked it up and played the bigger, bombier hits from their latest LP, Busting Visions, which reeled the partygoers in. The band sounded best when Nicholson was banging on the keys with backing vocals from O'Brien and Quin on guitars and bass - a powerhouse trio that's complemented by Rob Drake pounding the drums.
Other than a few technical problems at the beginning, Zeus played like a well-oiled machine. But it was disappointing that their camaraderie - so obvious and heartwarming offstage - didn't translate live.
Earlier, I chatted with the band about their latest EP, Cover Me, and their serious bromance was immediately apparent. Or rather, the "brozone layer," as they call it. They tumbled through a roster of inside jokes, referred to each other by seemingly obtuse nicknames (drummer Rob Drake is affectionately called The Snake, after pro wrestler Jake "The Snake" Roberts), and reminisced about playing music as teenagers in and around Barrie.
After witnessing their chummy charm, I guessed that the idea for the EP - a selection of cover songs from musicians as varied as Stone Temple Pilots, Flaming Lips and Michael Jackson - came from one of Zeus's inside jokes. That wasn't quite the case, said Nicholson. "We tried to go with a bunch of themes in the beginning: songs from a certain year, songs by women, but they were all going terribly so we decided to choose songs we wanted to play."
The project opened them up to a whole whack of sounds they're usually not associated with. (There is a cover of R. Kelly's Ignition, for example.) Choosing different genres was not necessarily intentional, says O'Brien, but "it ended up reflecting how diverse the stuff we listen to is when we're in the van, being silly."
Zeus join fellow Arts & Crafts labelmates on June 8 for the Field Trip Music & Arts Festival at Fort York and Garrison Common. Hopefully the brozone layer will be on display.