I remember first discovering ZHU on a Coachella livestream years ago. I was relaxing at home, scrolling through the multitude of streamed channels from the event, searching for something to capture my wandering mind. A dark stream with live saxophones, vocals, and house-styled beats stopped my scrolling fingers in their tracks. Captivated, curious and intrigued, I couldn’t leave the magical performance that had found its way onto my screen. I had found something.
Now, nearly seven years and multiple albums later, the anonymous veil over the act has been lifted, but the spellbinding aura of ZHU is as strong as ever.
Few artists can summon a full Red Rocks crowd in November like ZHU did this past weekend. The magic of his sets captivates an audience and creates a can’t-miss atmosphere of sheer creativity. Fresh off the first snowstorm of the season, ZHU set out to provide a performance so hot it melted the leftover powder from days prior.
As the crowd fought the ice-capped Red Rocks stairs and rocky terrain, the legendary house artist Claptone warmed the dancing shoes of all in attendance. Donning his trademark golden plague doctor mask and white gloves, he took over the crowd as the mass of bodies swelled to the top of the rocks. The ever-technical Claptone could be seen feverishly mixing and adding effects to the variety of house subgenres he traversed, creating an awe-inspiring atmosphere leading up to the night’s headliner.
Red Rocks performances are a highlight of most artists’ careers, and ZHU spares no expense when it comes to production for his events. This year’s edition was no exception. It featured a two-tiered stage; the DJ setup and mic were on top, and covered in translucent video boards underneath was his live band. They amplifying the already notorious tunes with new improvisations and timeless melodies.
With his blend of house beats, enchanting vocals, subtle and powerful guitar licks and sax solos, ZHU’s music can go in multiple directions. This crowd seemingly enjoyed some over others. The highlight of my night seemed less appreciated many others in attendance. After a section of dark, hitting beats, ZHU took to the mic to perform a stripped-down version of his hit “In The Morning.” His performance of this track demonstrated what a live set can embody by offering a new, creative twist on a song to engage the crowd. It seemed a chunk of those in attendance were craving four-on-the-floor club tunes, however. Even still, the beautiful performance and enchanting vocals were top notch.
Live aspects have been a ZHU staple throughout his career, dating back to his original Coachella debut. The way he reimagines his hits in every set draws me back every time he’s in the same city as me.
This year’s performance became much more intimate than those of years past as he took to a B stage above the house mixer engulfed by the attendees. Serenading vocals and energy ramped up as his proximity to the crowd grew ever closer. The night’s energy grew throughout the two-hour performance until the music and mic were abruptly shut down by the venue for their strict weekday curfew. Despite this abrupt ending (much to the dismay of the crowd), the show encapsulated the deep flowing creativity of the ZHU project.
Photos by Jake Duesterhoft