Any Zero 7 fans, myself included, who were at this remarkable and eclectic gig expecting an evening of summery pop like the gentle warm breeze of their popular ambient chillout theme Destiny were in for a rude shock. Zero 7 kicked the door down, tore up the rule book and performed a two hour epic set that was more of a bold and chaotic montage of old and new material.
Being impolitely tall I stood at the back of the sell-out throng surveying the dimly lit stage with its array of electronic hardware. A giant stack of speakers on both sides of the stage should have been the first clue this might be a bit different from what I was expecting.
A man in a white suit appears at the back, barely visible in the faint UV lights and stage smoke. He's fiddling with something. I assume he's a technician making a discreet final tweak to a mic stand but the gradually increasing electronic hum and gradual whoops and cheers of the audience at the front suggest otherwise. This must be the shyest and most low-key entrance ever I thought. Oh no. An explosion of techno rock erupts accompanied by a blitzkreig of white shafts of light firing over the audience. The whole band is already onstage. It's a bold, eye-popping, ear-crushing start.
More surprising to me is that they are really rocking out with a big wall of sound, albeit in their downbeat trip hoppy world music combo style. They begin by working their way through the new album Yeah Ghost with Count Me Out, Mr McGee, Pop Art Blue and Sleeper. Throughout this collection I detect echoes of Massive Attack, Talking Heads, 80's Disco and even the sounds of a mad circus. Faintly underneath are the strains of the lounge lizard chillout vibes of their better known cinema friendly and trendy tunes. This aspect is never more defined however than when a song is driven or accompanied by the soaring harmonies of the two vocalists Eska and Olivia Chaney who are really the stars of tonight's Zero 7 spectacle.
Binns and Hardaker, the original core duo float around behind pressing those buttons on all that hardware although Binns does step forward to sing a couple of tunes. He's animated and energetic but doesn't have the same heart piercing vocal quality of the main attraction: the ladies down the front. This really comes to the fore when they perform Home and Speedo, familiar tracks with voices that make your hairs stand up when you hear the combination of Eska's treacly velvet rasp and Chaney's elegant lilting birdsong. The crowd cheers in admiration and now the punters are really getting behind this.
Ghost Symbol and The Road unfold next and at moments I felt I was watching a really ambitious art college band having a fun experiment with a lot of expensive equipment they'd borrowed, chucking out every sound they can make but instead of it being a disastrous cacophony it works brilliantly.
Inevitably fate intervenes and Destiny takes its turn. But this is a reworking of the original classic and initially I don't even recognise it, nor do the crowd. With feathers stuck in her hair, Eska looks upwards, puts the mic to her lips and with honey flavoured gravel in her throat slowly scratches the words out against the sky. Once everyone recognises it they erupt. It's a slow burner but builds pace as the instruments kick in and eventually the whole crowd begins to dance. This is a new Destiny for Zero 7, both figuratively and literally.
For me the highlight of the evening arrived when Olivia Chaney takes the guitar and performs a stripped-down version of In the Waiting Line. This formerly ambient track became a minimal and bare piece of folk music sung with immediacy and gutteral urgency. It's a beautiful rendering making you realise that sometimes all you need is a guitar and a good voice.
Between the final tracks there's more crashing electronica with hints of a gospel choir. There's even a bit of tribal African chanting punctuating the throbbing beats and the whole band gets up at the end to urge everyone to clap along in time. Eventually I stumble back out into the real world a little exhausted and overwhelmed but thoroughly entertained and impressed.