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A ZHU-PHORIC NIGHT

By Nicole Ghapgharan

It had been a year and three months since I’d stepped into a venue for live music, so when AstralwerksGrammy-nominated ZHU, neé Steven Zhu, announced that the release of his third studio album, DREAMLAND 2021, would be followed by a three-night run at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado—which sold out so quickly that promoter AEG Presents was forced to add three shows—I jumped at the chance.

Vaccinated and masked, I hopped on a flight to the Mile High City for one of the first multi-night stands since the pandemic began, the appropriately titled DREAMROCKS. Rain or shine—or in my case, snow—doors would open at 7pm, with local support act Manic Focus on thereafter and ZHU hitting the stage at 9:30pm.

His performance was equal parts mesmerizing and invigorating as I watched the lights beam through the snowflake-filled Rocky Mountain sky (a few IPAs in me for warmth). It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, heart-pumping in a way I knew wasn’t just the altitude.

The nearly two-hour, 20-song set featured fan favorites like “In the Morning,” “Guilty Love,” “Desert Woman” and “Cocaine Model,” as well as material from the new album, including “Sweet Like Honey” and the single “Sky Is Crying” f/Yuna. In typical ZHU fashion, the electronic artist was accompanied by live drums, sax and guitar.

He even slipped in a snippet of Radiohead’s “Creep” before wrapping with an encore that mixed Dreamland 2021’s “Zhudio54” with his breakthrough single, “Faded” (nominated for Best Dance Recording in 2014).

While the iconic venue typically has a capacity of 9,500, the show was limited to 2,500 in an effort to enforce social distancing. Every other row was left empty and some masks were worn, despite not being required outdoors in Colorado.

Adding to a night of firsts, live-event-ticketing and blockchain-collectibles platform YellowHeart mounted the first-ever live NFT with ZHU during the show. The free commemorative series of six “moment tokens,” created with Maxon’s Cinema 4D software and Redshift rendering technology, will feature ZHU’s favorite clip from each show, marking the beginning of an NFT-based fan community.

Concerts will likely continue to be different from what we came to know (and love) pre-COVID, but I’ll take a masked and socially distanced event over the absence of live music any day. Seeing ZHU IRL was special in a way it might not have been had it played out in, say, 2019. If anything, the extra elbow room felt like a nice touch—or in this case, a nice lack of touch.

Photo Credit: Joey Vitalari

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