It’s 7:45 in West Hollywood, and a line of excited concertgoers can be found assembling along Santa Monica Boulevard. Previously hosting the likes of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and Elton John, the Troubadour stands as a vibrant reminder of the rich history of Los Angeles rock culture. That being said, it’s only appropriate that the vintage marquee is lit up in bright letters reading “ZELLA DAY.”
Tonight, California-based rock icon Zella Day is headlining a sold out show on her Hot Summer Dreams Tour. Although this is her first tour in 6 years, the success of Zella’s sophomore studio album, Sunday in Heaven is proof that she has not lost momentum.
As I walked into the Troubadour, I couldn’t help but notice how intimate the venue was. A time capsule of embellished music history, the walls were scattered with vintage show posters, colorful lanterns, and a disco ball suspended from the ceiling.
Opening the show was Okey Dokey, a folk-rock group from Nashville. To start the set, lead singer Aaron Martin quite literally pulled a microphone out of his sweatshirt pocket, and began singing “Thew My Love Away.” As Martin sang, he enthusiastically bounced across the stage- a very impressive feat for the cramped Troubadour. Only about a few feet across, the small stage forced the band to get creative with new ways of entertaining the crowd- a challenge they were undoubtedly able to overcome. “The Right Fit” showcased their dreamy psychedelic sound, and Martin kept the audience intrigued. Picking up the microphone stand, Martin handed the opposite end to a member in the crowd, and completed the rest of the song with the stand mid-air.
To the crowd’s delight, they also covered “Empire Ants” by the Gorillaz, replacing Damon Albarn’s dreamy sound with soft keys that reminded me of a xylophone. As the song climaxed, they heightened the energy by spotlighting the disco ball, projecting fluid glitter across the walls of the Troubadour.
Not even halfway through the song, Martin ripped off his orange hoodie, carefully hung it on the microphone stand, and to the surprise of the audience, hoisted it into the air above the neon Troubadour sign. “Do you like my Scarecrow?” he asked the crowd, as cheers erupted from the pit. As they wrapped up the set, they played “Wavy Gravy,” a song reminiscent of 60s psychedelia, with lush harmonies and rolling guitars. To top off the group’s eccentric performance, during the final minutes, Martin casually packed his bags- collecting a tote bag and fanny pack before exiting the stage, still singing.
As the lights dimmed and the stage transformed, a voice echoed “You’re going to love this,” followed by an instrumental sample of Gene Wilder’s “Pure Imagination”- immersing us into a real life “Alice in Wonderland” experience. This set a whimsical theme for the night, further exacerbating the audience’s anticipation in lieu of Zella’s arrival.
Finally, emerging from the darkness of stage left, Zella waltzed onto the stage in a flowing red dress, her piercing blue eyes painted in glitter and thick eyeliner. Donning a Fender Jag-Stang guitar, she launched the band into “Purple Haze” off of 2020’s Where Does The Devil Hide. Layered on top of a seductive guitar riff and sophisticated percussion beat, Zella’s lyrics “Purple haze on Saturdays, Smoking with no clothes on” enticed the audience, all while showcasing her impressive vocal range.
Keeping the energy high, Zella played “Am I Still Your Baby,” a driving ballad about yearning for love, scattered with imagery of the California coast. She exaggerated the line “You taste like California,” with an excited audience eagerly joining, before seamlessly transitioning into a short rendition of “Let Me Roll It” by Wings. The lyrics “My heart is like a wheel, let me roll it” complemented Zella’s free spirited and nostalgic sound flawlessly.
Ditching the guitar for “Dance for Love,” Zella shouted “I just wanna dance for love, Celebrate it just because I can.” This was definitely a fan favorite, with the crowd enthusiastically bouncing in sync. She pranced across each section of the stage, interacting with the fans, the Troubadour’s disco ball bringing the cosmos to earth.
Zella switched up the rhythm by introducing “Golden” and “Girls.” Originally a groovy four-on-the-floor song, drummer EMSKII introduced electronic drums during “Golden,” toning down the tempo with a more acoustic sounding rendition.
Zella then invited Georgia Josiena Nott of Broods to join her in performing their new single “Hand As My Arrow,” released less than two weeks prior to this show. Owning the second mic, Nott’s voice harmonized with Zella’s over the rhythmic bassline, creating a hypnotic effect.
Towards the conclusion of her set, Zella jumped into the pit with her guitar, quietly positioning her microphone in the center of the floor. Leaving behind the drums, keyboards, and other instruments from before, her voice intimately crescendoed into the words “I’m in your dreams now, I’m just a man on the moon.” She then signed an autograph, and was gone as quickly as she appeared.
Still, the crowd wanted more. After a couple minutes of howling for an encore, Zella leaped back onto the stage, having switched out her red skirt for some stylish jeans and a sparkly belt. And an encore she delivered, with hits “You Sexy Thing” and “Mushroom Punch.”
Zella absolutely captivated the audience, approaching each section of the crowd and dancing up a storm, somehow not missing a single note. Finishing with the words “I’m gonna mushroom punch my way down the rabbit hole,” she closed the night just as magical as it began.
Listen to Sunday In Heaven here: