I have been looking forward to this show since I first heard Zeal & Ardor’s album back in January. It was a highly anticipated date in my calendar and I really had absolutely no idea what to expect. I had not seen any reviews or live photos so my imagination ran wild. To put the cherry on top of this mounting excitement it turns out to be a sold-out show, which for a band who has seemingly popped out of the ground is surreal.
But first, as ever there are support bands to watch so let’s delve in shall we?
Opening support comes from a band that are unknown to me. They go by the name; Combineharvester. Straight off the bat I’ll be honest, I just don’t get it. This three piece probably sum themselves up best under their genre section from their Facebook page as “Psychedelic - -- - Noise -- - - Drones - --- Songs”. The London-born band remind me a little of that art-act from the TV show ‘Spaced’ which has David Walliams as the ‘lead artist’. You either get it like ‘Brian Topp’ or you’re a Tim Bisley, like myself. The vocalist doesn’t seem to sing, moreover sounds like he is producing a whiney noise in the distance. It is hard to tell as the other two instrumentalists, especially the kick drum, drowns most of what the microphone picks up. There is seemingly no song structure and just seems to be three men playing instruments anyway the wish and calling it music. Having said that, the audience really enjoyed it, proving it really is subjective.
After the opening act we are privy to another band who I have not previously heard of called Pryapisme. This French five piece enter onto the stage to some sort of 8-bit Nintendo/carnival noise, which continued
throughout the entirety of the first song. This lyric-less band had me standing in some amazement and confusion. It’s hard to understand what to make of them as it’s just so goddamned quirky from their pianists’ Tom Hardy look from his role as Charles Bronson, right through to the humor and 90’s disco beats. You stand there and say to yourself “Is this really happening?!”. On the humor side, the front man, or that is the person who does the talking in the intervals said at one point; "All our songs all have long names and to be honest I don't remember them all!" and apologized for his poor English. At one point it sounded like Pryapisme had a theremin out but I believe that was just down to the pianists abilities. The crowd, which has now trebled in size, really loves this. The band are much better controlling their sound and often change between more 90's disco sounds and beats with odd strikes at a piano and guitar riffs. The second track actually isn't bad apart from the random jabs at the keyboard at times. They are much easier to stomach than Combineharvester and the crowd really like them and have more structure too. The spokesman, as I shall now refer to him as, often got many laughs from the crowd and after only seven songs, their set came to an end.
Now The Underworld is now at tight capacity. It’s a struggle to move around but all this means only one thing. It is time for tonight’s headline act - Zeal & Ardor. In pitch black and with the backing of ‘Sakrilegium I’ Zeal & Ardor [who are a very surprising six members big] walk onto stage donning black long cardigan type hoods and merely stand on stage facing the eager audience. They open with ‘In Ashes’ and the front man switches between two microphones - one for clean and shouting, the other for screams. They are an instant hit, with mosh pits opening up behind me - the first ones tonight and you feel every fist, head and elbow in your back as there's no barrier. They have such presence – without even uttering a word until the forth song where someone forgot to turn on the sampling laptop and so we all waited for that to happen. There are two gentlemen in front of the drummer who are back-up vocalists, the type you used to see on Top Of The Pops, their soul purpose to provide harmonies. Something you don’t see outside of the pop world.
Zeal & Ardor also seem to have a lot more songs than their recently released debut album would lead you to believe - two men behind me made comment on the long pause with the laptop failure that they're trying to 'fill the time in because they've only got, like, five songs' so I don't feel my ignorance is sole. It's amazing to see such a packed out room for a band that have seemingly sprung up out of no where, only forming this time last year [that I can find] and only releasing their first album earlier this year. Further more everyone here IS here for them. Everyone is deeply, passionately into them as if they've been around for a number of years and they're all die-hard fans. It’s quite incredible. Lighting wise they've got a lot of back-lit strobes but using different colours with very little if at all no FOH lighting so it's a pretty big silhouetted set. The front man has a very ornate looking mic-stand of gold with black recesses, something you'd expect to see a Victorian lamp stand to be made out of - and I have a sneaking suspicion that it is, in fact, a modified lamp stand.
They bring the night to a close with probably their best-known track "Devil Is Fine". Again, the whole room is singing this song back to/along with the band; it's really very remarkable! All this from their third ever show as well as their first ever show in the UK – which by the way had completely sold out! If they can create this much passion, this big a punch on only their third show then watch out Reading and Leeds festival, because I don’t think you realize just what a phenomenal force is coming your way. I really don’t think I have done this review nearly enough justice.
Do not miss your opportunity to see this, genre-mixing, defyingly unusual surprise of a band live.