Zeus took the stage at a moderately late time of around 11pm. I’ve grown so accustom to seeing early shows at the Phoenix because they’re trying to have a late night party afterwards. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case for Zeus’ headlining show.
If you know relatively little about this band, they’re Toronto’s darlings of who actually hail from Barrie, Ontario. I was introduced most of the members from Jason Collett gigs of the early 2000s as they supported him both as a back-up band and as regular openers in a band called Paso Mino. Paso Mino was led by Toronto charmer Afie Jurvanen, who now has his own solo project Bahamas and spent a time touring with Feist. To scrape back a bit more background, Zeus sometimes bassist, sometimes guitarist and sometimes singer Carlin Nicholson used to be in a band called the 6ixty 8ights. Zeus is a band who very evidently has some solid roots in the Toronto music scene.
A few years back Zeus played a weekly residency at the very intimate Dakota Tavern where they drew tunes from their debut masterpiece ‘Say Us’.
This show was a far stretch from their beginnings in smaller venues. There is however a distinct charm that the band brought to a medium sized venue like the Phoenix, that made it feel so much more intimate than it actually was. Zeus have a certain camaraderie that few bands are able to pull off so seamlessly. Zeus, like the Beatles very distinctly have sole writers to their tunes, with the frequent change of instruments and lead vocals, it is very evident who the tune was primarily written by. However they extend it so much further to write medleys like “Greater Times on the Wayside/River by the Garden” which boast seamless transitions that keep you on your toes.
This past gig at the Phoenix was the first time I had heard their new album ‘Busting Visions’ brought to life after its release in May of this year. After they had relentlessly performed ‘Say Us’ for two years, it was really refreshing to hear them play with a new batch of songs. The music of ‘Busting Visions’ boasts a more comfortable sound that employs a touch of soul that ‘Say Us’ never had. The Neil Quinn tune “Hello, Tender Love” was love at first listen, their performance was bang on at this show, completely surpassing my expectations from the studio version. It was a real treat to hear the 7” releases “Hot Under the Collar” and the stripped Mike O’Brien tune “The Darkness,” the latter they reserved for the first spot in their three or four song encore. O’Brien very confidently apologised for the loll in their set declaring that while he knows everyone loves to rock (himself included), he wanted to play a slower tune for a change.
With only two full-length releases, it was nice to hear a lot of their older material. Resident classics “How Does It Feel?” and “The Renegade” were played. Quinn on his tune “Kindergarden” played the acoustic guitar, which didn’t seem to change the tune in the slightest bit. I was surprised to hear their lead single “Marching Through Your Head” in the middle of their set. I will never forget seeing them play over a year ago at the 2011 Canadian Music Week gig at the Horseshoe Tavern to a packed house where all 400 people in the venue were marching in anticipation for the tune “Marching Through Your Head.” It’s that kind of hometown love that has allowed Zeus to perform a headlining set at the Phoenix. While this show was less than sold out and quite spacious, it was really nice to see Zeus play to an eager crowd after far too modest beginnings.