The 9:30 Club, Washington, DC April 17, 2002
by Bill Campbell
It is really difficult -- almost impossible -- to write about a set that is purposely composed and performed to be chill. And that is the word that perfectly describes British act, Zero 7. Their "psychedelic soul" is the quintessential mellow-out remedy for all that ails you. Their three-synthesizer group (with accompanying guitar, bass, and drums) erect cascading walls of massaging grooves that would make Jimmy Smith proud -- especially when their Frankenstein Captain (and Tennille) keyboardist in sailor's cap and bathrobe gets on that Hammond!
Though their sound is perfectly jazzy and R&B-inflected, they somehow deftly avoid the clichés that run rampant on "smooth jazz flavors" stations across this country. These Brits have depth to their soul that manages to remain organic though heavily synthesized. They have picked up where the Brand New Heavies left off and have surpassed them, injecting both hip-hop and electronica temperaments into their music. It is a sound that is both mellow and hip, and it makes you nod your head to every beat.
What really makes Zero 7, though, is their cavalcade of soul singers. Mozez is somewhere between Al Green and Will Downing, possessing the audience with his silk-strewn voice. Sophie Baker is the owner of those angelic voices that you find all over electronica. Pure butter. Sia Furler, on the other hand, is a belter par excellence, who has to stand a few feet away from the microphone so as not to blow out everybody's eardrums. She absolutely brought down the house with "Distractions." The woman simply oozed sex and sorrow and desperation, bringing tears to your eyes (they really should've ended the concert with that song).
Zero 7 is definitely a group that you should watch out for. Attend their concert if they appear anywhere near you. R&B fans will definitely not be disappointed -- until you realize that they'll never be appearing on your favorite R&B station. While enjoying this concert immensely, that realization did put a bittersweet taste in my mouth. Because this is exactly the kind of group that R&B needs to be hearing right now.