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Review: ZZ Ward cuts loose with stylish blues at the Ritz Ybor in Tampa

ZZ Ward performs at the Ritz Ybor in Tampa on June 5, 2013.

Caitlin Johnston

ZZ Ward performs at the Ritz Ybor in Tampa on June 5, 2013.

ZZ Ward wants people to get rowdy, cut loose and feel sexy.

A firm believer that music should evoke emotion, Ward opened her hour-long set at the Ritz Ybor Wednesday night with a three-song powerhouse led by Put The Gun Down and kept the crowd roaring and grooving to her personal brand of hip-hop-infused bluesy rock.

“I just think music should be intense, whatever emotion it gives you,” Ward said before the show. “Whether it’s sexiness or it’s anger or it’s empowerment or it’s drive.”

The 27-year-old performed with ease — moving from vocals to guitar to keyboard to drum in an effortless manner — and with no fear of interacting with the audience.

After raising the energy with her electric opening, Ward slowed it down and pulled up a stool for the raw ballad, Last Love Long.

“This next song is a song you don’t ever want to write because you don’t ever want to go through what makes you write it,” Ward said in her introduction before letting loose a smooth, painful account of personal heartbreak.

Ward, who writes when she’s feeling empowered, bypasses sad songs, instead favoring moody — a minor distinction, perhaps, but no doubt one picked up from her love of the blues.

Decked out in a black tank top and blue jeans cuffed over boots, Ward topped the look with her ever-present fedora. Ward, who owns more than 60 of her iconic hats, says she dons them as an homage to the blues. She indulged these roots halfway through the show, busting out a harmonica for a couple of songs, including If I Could Be Her.

As the show went on, there was no room to doubt Ward loves what she does. An animated performer, her face expresses the intense mood of each song — eyes growing big, body swaying, mouth turning to a snarl at an especially vengeful lyric.

But catch her at the right moment, and you’ll see a smile of spontaneous joy break through. One of the highlights of the show was a moment during a cover of the Son House classic Grinnin’ In Your Face. As guitarist Erick Walls unleashed an impressive riff on the slide, Ward’s eyes widened and her mouth broadened into a playful smile as if to say to the audience, Are you guys hearing this, too?

Props have to be given to a band who knows how to rock a good jam session mid song, something missing from too many top 40 artists in 2013

Following the song, Ward gave much deserved shoutout to Walls and the rest of the band: Chris Pat on drums and Shadarius Shields on bass.

“I have some incredible musicians who play with me, that’s for sure,” she said to a chorus of whistles and cheers of approval from the crowd.

Her powerful voice and clean runs lead some first-time listeners to liken her to Adele, but the singer’s appetite for rock and inclusion of hip-hop elements — gained from stealing her brother’s CDs including Nas, Jay-Z and Lil Kim — set her on a track all her own.

Wrapping up the show with an encore of the fast-paced, edgy Blue Eyes Blind, Ward’s performance delivered Tampa just what the singer sought: an emotional catharsis and a hungering for more.

[Last modified: Thursday, June 6, 2013 4:55pm]


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