Canada’s Darling of the Blues is fast becoming Europe’s Darling too as Layla Zoe continues to conquer the hearts of Blues fans with her irresistible blend of power vocals and ‘from the soul’ performances. Thursday it was Bonn’s turn to feel the heat of the Firegirl at the Harmonie.
It was a moving moment when Layla announced that among the new songs she would sing tonight would be ‘Sweet Angel’, dedicated to her best friend Marsha Meidow who tragically died of a brain aneurysm in 2010. For the most part though, this was an appropriately fiery show from the girl who Marsha long ago dubbed affectionately The Firegirl. An evening of great blues-rock that had hips waving and mouths smiling with glee for the best part of a hot and sweaty two hours. ‘Love is in the air’ wasn’t one of the songs performed, but at one point Layla asked “If you believe in love put your hands in the air” and was rewarded with a sea of waving hands.
There’s no doubt that Canada’s darling of the Blues has developed a big following in Europe these last few years. There is little doubt also that some of the credit for that steady climb in popularity goes to her musical relationship with Henrik Freischlader who has mentored Layla, helped with composing, played most of the instruments on her recent albums – and even turned up as bass guitarist on the road occasionally. It’s something of a surprise then to hear that a new disc planned for release around next April will come out, not on Henrik’s Cable Car but on RUF Records.
The good news is though that the new recording will be made using the men onstage with the Firegirl tonight. If you’ve heard the live set recorded at Spirit of 66 then you will already know these guys really do make a difference, particularly adding bite to her sound.
Hardy Fischötter has a solid thumping sound for the uptempo numbers but manages a surprising lightness of touch for the quieter moments that show his class. Gregor Sonnenberg clung somewhat to the shadows stage left but then he was pretty busy, wearing two hats all evening – often with one hand on his bass and the other on the keyboard of an electric piano.
Stage right was probably the best electric guitarist to ever come out of Bonn. Sound is a matter of taste of course but Jan Laacks for me hits just the right sweet-spot between melody and metal scream, particularly this evening when he solos on his Yamaha Pacifica. It’s a surprise choice of guitar and there’s a more guitar-hero traditional white Strat in his guitar rack too, but the Yamaha seems to offer the right blend and I could listen to his ‘Gemini Heart’ solo forever and not get bored.
There are of course some thumpingly enjoyable Layla classics in the set – ‘Pull yourself together’ still sounds like an ultimatum rather than a hope when issued from her lips, and in a time where we are currently reminded of how much wrong there is in the world Layla’s attack on the media and politics of today via ‘They Lie’ is essential live listening. ‘Green eyed lover’ was as funky as ever, and even if I never find out who the Canadian guitarist that inspired it is, Her heartache is our gain this evening.
As more music is recorded there are inevitably some songs that vanish from a set-list and I rather missed ‘It’s a Man’s world’. Most of all I missed ‘The Lily’ which for me is the best song she has yet written but there is an increasing amount of super music for Layla to draw on – and the new material played this evening suggests more great music to come.
You can’t help but get caught up in Layla’s enthusiasm onstage and she really does make everyone feel they’re at a party – or perhaps on the beach? She lays her towel out on the stage floor beside Jan Laacks as if there’s a warm ocean breeze coming her way rather than a hot guitar solo. Even after seeing her show a few times now I am mystified at how Laacks keeps his mind on those solos whilst Layla’s hands are running over him. Bassman Gregor “Is afraid of me!” she laughs before advancing towards him with a look of menacing affection. Hardy Fischötter has a seemingky safe barrier of drums for protection. Despite my distance in the audience even I got a “Hey John, How you feeling?” called down to me.
You really can’t escape Layla Zoe, and truthfully, you shouldn’t even try. I’m not going down the ‘Next Janis Joplin’ road because this is the first, last and only Layla Zoe. She really is a unique talent. Not so long ago Layla announced 100 Gospel songs – one each Sunday – on her Facebook site, and she delivered, from every corner of the world she was touring. I’ve seen her share the stage with both Mike Andersen and Sonny Landreth for storming renditions of ‘Walking Blues’ and every time her vocal has made the song a highlight of the evening.
The Firegirl’s flame is burning brighter than ever these days. Get ready to feel the heat next time she’s singing in a hall near you!