Another victim of the Covid concert disaster that still has repercussions to this day, Layla Zoe is on her first tour for three years. There were people who originally bought their tickets from the Mr Music shop in Bonn which closed at the end of 2020. It’s easy to look back angrily at all the lost live music from those equally lost years as we wait for Layla to come onstage at a pleasingly full Bonn Harmonie. Pleasing especially since only yesterday was the popular Blues Caravan on which Layla herself has ridden on several occasions over the recent years. The good turn-out is, above all, a tribute to Layla Zoe’s voice and musical sincerity.
Layla herself is not one to look back in anger and lives very much in the moment, Not surprisingly then the bulk of tonight’s show comes from her latest Cable Car release ‘The World Could Change’. Indeed, the show kicked off with the jagged staccato intro of ‘Dark Heart’ with its dark tale pushed along by an equally dark and foreboding bass riff. Followed up immediately though with more optimistic titles ‘The World Could Change’ and ‘Praying Kind’.
The evening also includes a couple of excursions into one of Layla’s finest releases the ‘Gemini’ double disc from 2018 which provides two of my favourite performances of this evening. ‘Ghost Train’ rumbles along its tracks to quickly pick up a rocking speed and get feet dancing in front of the stage. The power surge from this rocker also serves to provide a veritable whammy of a pace change as the applause dies away, the lights dim, and Layla breaks out her best spine-tingling vocal for the gentle ‘Roses and Lavender’. There’s enough emotion just in that vocal to bring a man to tears, but if you were man enough to hold out despite those imploring tones then the guitar solos would most certainly have got to you in the end. It seems like Krissy Matthews is a guitar-slinger for hire these days with appearances alongside Hamburg Blues Band and more recently with Vanja Sky here at the Harmonie, but he never sounded better to my ears than on this night and especially on this track. Plucking, pulling, coaxing, tearing and teasing every single note from his Stratocaster as if they were individual children to whom he was giving birth. Live music at its best indeed!
The long tour is nearing its end and it’s been quite a haul for Layla and band with a punishing twelve shows in thirteen days (SEE INTERVIEW) but to say they are holding up well would be an understatement. Drummer Felix Dehmel provides both power and subtlety as required and Paul Jobson is that dream of every band at a time when money is tight in having equal (and excellent) abilities on both bass guitar and keyboards. The enforced lay-off that Covid brought with it has clearly made both the Firegirl and her band hungry to take their music to the people and there is something even of a religious feeling in the hall evening. I’m thinking of another great female rock/blues voice here too in Dana Fuchs. Both ladies bring something of a religious zeal to their shows. Not hitting you over the head with it, but a spirit (spirituality even). Closing out with ‘Brother’ and ‘We’re All The Same’ that togetherness between performer, music and audience is particularly palpable in the last part of the show.
With just Paul Jobson’s barebones keyboard for company Layla closes the evening with the gospel-tinged strains of ‘He Loves Me’. Her beautiful voice swirling gently from the stage, past the opening audience rows and still as gently but with no less force settling in my ears at the back of the hall. She really has so much power in her lungs and in her heart that no microphone is necessary.
If you like your music to come as much from a beating heart as a beating drum then Layla Zoe is a name you should familiarize yourself with, get some music from, and if at all possible, hear live.
1. Dark Heart – Henrik Freischlader and Layla Zoe
2. The world could change – Henrik Freischlader and Layla Zoe
3. Praying Kind – Henrik Freischlader and Layla Zoe
4. Leave you for good – Chris Raines and Layla Zoe
5. Susan – Bob Fridzema and Layla Zoe
6. Weakness – Jan Laacks and Layla Zoe
7. Ghost train – Jan Laacks and Layla Zoe
8. Roses and lavender – Jan Laacks and Layla Zoe
9. Watch what you’re doing – Henrik Freischlader and Layla Zoe)
11. Brother – Henrik Freischlader and Layla Zoe
12. We’re all the same – Henrik Freischlader and Layla Zoe
13. He loves me – Jan Laacks and Layla Zoe
Finally – here is the video to Dark Heart…