Zeus, the God of Brown Liquor

August 6th, 2012

Zeus – Mercury Lounge – August 3, 2012

You might expect a band with a name like Zeus to immediately blast you with a bolt of lightning every time they take the stage. But, as they proved again at Mercury Lounge on Friday night, this Toronto quartet doesn’t work like that. Opening with “Kindergarten,” off 2010’s Say Us, they were initially just another Beatles-esque rock and roll band. A very good rock and roll band, sure, but … then the second tune, “Love/Pain,” from this year’s under-the-radar-good Busting Visions, kicked in with its heavy, dark-keys riff and groovy energy, and from there Zeus slowly drew in the crowd.

By the time the third song—the “Greater Times on the Wayside/River by the Garden” couplet—got into gear, the audience began to understand that Zeus is like a good whiskey: Sure it’ll get you drunk, but it’s also a swirl of flavors to be savored. The group split the set between both albums (plus one brand new in-progress song) while showing the easy chemistry and the ragged wear of years on the road. From psychedelic, on “With Eyes Closed,” to Steely Dan–like prog, on “Love Is a Game,” with a note of an alt-country twang throughout, Zeus wove a complete sound. I’d like to be able to review their show without mentioning their cover of “That’s All” by Genesis, but the drum-heavy, you-didn’t-realize-how-great-this-song-is version is the unqualified centerpiece of the set.

Sometimes a crowd trends toward the back of the room, weekend socializing with music in the background. And other times the audience pushes to the front, scrounging for dance space as close to the music as possible. Friday’s midnight crowd was decidedly in the latter category, the already converted singing along, with the freshly made fans wondering what crept up on them like that. The set closed with the single off the new album, “Are You Gonna Waste My Time?,” which played like one of the better rock songs you’ll hear this year. And it was followed by a one-two encore punch of “Marching Through Your Head” and a fantastic “The Renegade.” Maybe it wasn’t a bolt of lightning, but really, who wants to get struck by lightning? —A. Stein