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Live: ZAK ABEL // O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

Zak Abel triumphs at London’s O2 SBE playing his biggest headline show to date.

London born and bred, soul-pop artist Zak Abel has been rising high these past few years releasing banger after banger with a substantial support from his fast growing fan base. With vast musical talent and voice beyond his years he has now moved away from the status as one to watch, ready to claim his stardom. And his last week’s hometown performance was a testament to that.

With energy levels rocking sky high, the show was a perfect match for all the dancers out there. Celebrating Zak’s debut album, Only When We’re Naked, which was released in October last year, the set was beaming with fan favourites as well as some brand new songs. Embracing all the loud cheers coming his way, Zak confidently took to the stage ready for the big night.

Enlisting the help of his full band accompanied by a choir arrangement, Zak proved to be a true frontman conducting the crowd in a smooth and effortless manner, throwing in some bold dance moves from time to time. Not that anyone protested, naturally.

Hugely inspired by soulful and funk-esque sonic palette, with African sounds dropped in to the mix, the danceable nature of his songs was hard to go unnoticed. From already old school Beautiful Escape and its funky rhythmics, to the honest and cathartic Awakening or the sensual Only When We’re Naked, the set choices assembled into a cohesive and vibrant whole. One of the opening artists, Miriam Bryant even returned for an exquisite cover of Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers. The track quickly transformed into one massive sing-along as many voices joined in.

The dynamics were flawlessly balanced, intertwined with moments of solemnity and true appreciation. “If you know this song, sing along”, we heard as Zak took to the centre for a reimagined acoustic version of These Are The Days. Elsewhere in the set, his husky vocals were beautifully exposed during piano-led Deserve To Be Loved. “This is my favourite on the album, it means a lot to me”, he said.

Stepping away from his well-known catalogue, Zak also graced us with two brand new songs; Love Song that soared on more subtle textures and You Come First, stated by the man himself as “the filthiest song” he’d ever written. Both encompass scintillating passion and funky attitude, the integral elements of Zak’s aesthetics.

Known for his extensive array of collaborators, I only wish he had invited some guests to join him on stage. However, this might be the only negative aspect of the entire performance. Coming back for one last song, Unstable, Zak rounded the set off with a quick stagediving action. One quick photo with the crowd and he was gone.

Looking back at his entire journey and acknowledging his accomplishments to date, Zak’s next move became even clearer. After his last year’s stop at London’s heart, Scala and his triumphant O2 SBE set, O2 Academy Brixton sounds like a pretty good idea. Hopefully, he will please our eardrums with more funky numbers before we all head there to watch him rise even higher.

Photos: Kasia Osowiecka