Sometimes, pop music doesn’t make sense to me.
Tuesday night, emerging alt-pop artist Zella Day headlined at the Fonda Theatre, supporting her debut album Kicker. It’s an impressive debut record with catchy tracks featured all throughout. I’d put it up against some of the better-performing stuff in the genre.
Despite these opinions, the show wasn’t quite a sellout – though it was well attended. Donning an outfit that looked like it could’ve come from the “free love” era of the ‘60s and ‘70s, Zella Day and her band brought it from the gate.
Kicking her set off with “Sweet Ophelia,” Zella Day didn’t let her risqué outfit keep her from jumping all around the stage – though she went side-stage after the song, perhaps to grab some extra tape to keep herself from falling out of her shirt.
The show was a homecoming of sorts for the Arizona-born but LA-based singer. The crowd was very in tune with her work, with a large percentage knowing the words to every song. One early-set crowd favorite was “High.” It’s a smart pop song about when then drugs become a way to attain fulfillment in a relationship. There’s something to be said for how her songs build to a crescendo. When it came to the final chorus – the last “Don’t worry baby, don’t you cry, as long as we keep getting high” came when the instrumentals stopped and then blasted loudly again in an intense moment.
The album is full of quality pop songs with hooks galore. “Jerome,” “East of Eden,” “The Outlaw Josey Whales” … it seemed like with every song, someone in the crowd exclaimed it to be their favorite. Zella Day prefaced the latter of those three by saying she grew up with her dad watching a lot of westerns and Clint Eastwood became a favorite, so the song is about the Eastwood character in the film of the same name.
Midway through her set, Zella Day broke her tambourine in half. She threw it into the crowd and it landed right by my feet. One of the bigger superfans of the night came up with it and it was clearly a memory she won’t soon forget. At the end of the song, the other half went into the crowd and Zella Day asked that the lucky recipients take care of it for her, as it was her favorite tambourine.
An intimate acoustic version of “Jameson” came next, followed by one of the better covers I’ve seen live in 2015. Stevie Nicks is not an easy voice to imitate, but Zella Day passed the test on a killer cover of the Fleetwood Mac hit “Rhiannon.” I was surprised at how the young crowd knew every word to the ‘70s classic. But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised – Zella Day is a spiritual successor to Stevie Nicks if there ever was one.
What came next was a microcosm for what it is like to watch a live show in 2015. Zella Day climbed off the stage and walked out to the center of the crowd before performing “Compass” in full amongst her fans. I took a picture as it was right next to me, and as you can see 95% of the people in the shot are watching this magical moment on their tiny phone screens. I get that you want to save snapshots of these things – I did it myself – but getting caught up in living in the future kept these people from fully enjoying the present. Here was an opportunity to interact with one of your favorite pop stars and people chose to record it for others to experience instead. That aside, Zella Day killed it with a touching performance of the song.
“Ace of Spades” led into set-closing favorite “Hypnotic.” Zella Day opened the song by saying her mom was back at the mech table selling shirts emblazoned with “Headstrong Mama,” a call-back to one of the memorable lines in the song. Already there were a good number of people rocking the shirts.
Though it would signal the end of her set, Zella Day came out for a two-song encore, opening with holiday favorite “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and closing with a new song. Though she isn’t quite yet at the level of buzz as some of her peers, Zella Day has a stage presence and charisma that goes well with her level of talent. Having seen her at a few festivals earlier this summer, she’s grown as a live performer in a short time. She’s got a bright future and is worth keeping an eye on.
Opener Harriet is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. Performing songs from a full-length debut set for 2016, they have a St. Lucia vibe with upbeat danceable pop tunes. “I’m Trying” and “Burbank” were two of my favorites and they should definitely be on your radar at this point.
Words: Mark E. Ortega