Jimmy Pallagrosi
July 11, 2023

These guys just love what they’re doing, and dare you not to love it too. It doesn’t matter where you come from, who you are, or what audience you find yourself in – with Zio, you’re always in The Rock And Roll Capital Of The World. And isn’t that really what it’s all about when it comes down to it?

PHOTOS: CHRIS WALKDEN

Tonight’s destination Jimmy’s is a curious and unexpected sort of venue. Situated near Liverpool City Centre, not much more than a long throw-in from the University or the Philharmonic, it would be easy to miss it. There is a ‘Jimmy’s’ heavily identified, but it is a cheery sort of food establishment full of happily seated patrons enjoying a burger or similar before heading off to continue their evening jaunt around the city’s hedonistic hot-spots – or a couple of quiet drinks, if that’s more the night in question. Jimmy’s the rock venue is actually in the same building, but is situated down a blink-and-you’ll-miss-them set of stairs leading down into the bowels of the building. Emerging from the foot of said staircase, one enters into a cramped-looking, cave-like arena, almost reminiscent of fabled old psychedelic-era venues such as the UFO or Middle Earth – or even the rather closer to home Cavern Club. An oddly triangular area in front of the small stage seems as if it will cause rather a crush if a couple of telephone boxes discharge their contents – but in actual fact it is oddly Tardis-like and holds significantly more than you’d think. The stage area, meanwhile, does not benefit from any Tardis technology, and is certainly less than expansive – making it all the more impressive to find that Jimmy Pallagrosi, drummer and leader of the Zio collective, has assembled a drumkit which might have Mike Portnoy looking on sagely. This is not a band, or a man, to be limited by petty constraints of the laws of physics. This is Jimmy Pallagrosi and Zio, and they could play in your airing cupboard and make it seem as if your bathroom was, in fact, ‘the rock and roll capital of the world’. But more of that anon…

Heather Findlay

First up on stage, providing a relatively brief 30-minute support performance is Heather Findlay, devoid of band or even trio on this occasion, and simply appearing ‘unplugged’ and without a safety net, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar alone. It’s clearly a delight for most people here to see Heather gracing a stage again, and her set goes down very well with a crowd who are with her from the off. A couple of old Mostly Autumn chestnuts get an airing – Caught In A Fold and an impressive Evergreen, segued smartly and effectively into a chunk of Babe I’m Gonna Leave You from Led Zeppelin’s debut album. There is also a very nice little nod to her Odin Dragonfly duo, with Angela Gordon, but of most interest to some will have been a couple of as-yet-unreleased songs – performed in slightly seat-of-the-pants fashion owing to their very newness, but fascinating to hear nonetheless. Given the time constraint on the set, it is very well done, and full of good-humoured asides showing a real bond between artist and audience. It’s a good start to the evening, even if some late-comers are still making their way into the ‘cave’ as the set draws to a close.

After a short break (needfully so after a delay caused by the earlier soundcheck), Zio bound onto the stage with obvious enthusiasm around 9:15 or so. An odd feature of this very compact stage area is that it is surrounded by a chest-high fence of sorts, which seems an unnecessary precaution here – it is hard to imagine a crowd of middle-aged, bearded and generally genially behaved prog fans rushing the stage as a mob, but I imagine there may be other events at which miscreants emerge, so who are we to complain? The band are fronted by two vocalist/frontpeople, in the shape of Hayley Griffiths (who is of course on both Zio albums) and Charlie Bramald from the excellent Ghost Of The Machine, who isn’t on either but fits in seamlessly here. As the first track begins, however – Untenable from the latest album Truewaves – there is an issue which indicates that the Sound Gremlins may have got onto the guest list under ‘Gremlin, S’, as Hayley’s voice proves entirely inaudible, and Charlie’s barely more so. This fact is raised at the song’s conclusion by several keen audience members, and thankfully things do improve fairly quickly. The sound at the fence is still a little problematic, with the drums overpowering a little, but then again when standing six feet from the kit that is unavoidable, and a trip further back from the stage shows the balance noticeably better. It’s a shame that the impressive power of that storming opening track is muted, but it is far from disastrous in the grand scheme of things.

Hayley Griffiths and Charlie Bramald harmonise, with Alex Lofoco behind

The set manages to cram in a significant majority of both of the band’s albums, showcasing their ability to shift from crushing power-metal to delicate melodic reverie on the proverbial dime, and there are probably two tracks which are clear standouts tonight. Firstly, from Truewaves, and closing the set proper, there is I Hear Them Whistling, certainly the centrepiece and crowning moment of that album, and its widescreen amalgamation of prog, metal and astonishingly tight playing in places does the album version proud and then some. It’s clear why it was chosen as set-closer, as it’s a song which demands that only encores follow it. Talking of encores, the first of which we get tonight is a hugely welcome rendition of Lonely Diamond Part 1, again from Truewaves (there’s no Part 2, so we’re not missing anything!). Quite rarely for Zio, it’s an instrumental track, and allows guitarist Marc Fascia to deliver some absolutely stunning lead work. The other big highlight from the set itself is the lengthy Inner City Shorroma from the Flower Torania album. Again perhaps the highlight of that record, it’s a complex and powerful performance which is only highlighted by the Pallagrosi drum solo. Yes, that’s right – it’s not a typo, I did say ‘highlighted’ by the drum solo, as Jimmy is one of the few men outside of Cozy Powell doing the 1812 Overture to be able to turn a drum solo from a bathroom break to a must-see moment. Accompanied for part of the time by a seemingly random if creepily anonymous full-face white mask which he dons midway through, every inch of the extensive kit is explored, and the final high energy, high speed trawl through every trick in the proverbial book makes me want to slump exhausted over the fence simply from watching. To add to this, there’s a glorious and unexpected ‘Pink Floyd’ ending closing the piece on a wave of unabashed pomp and grandiosity. Over the top? You bet, and more please!

JImmy Palagrossi and Alex Lofoco, behind Marc Fascia in full flight

There are other highlights in terms of songs, including Gold And Power, Erwin’s Opera and the dizzyingly thrilling X-Ray, but mention must be made of the band members themselves, for this is a crack selection of musicians. Marc Fascia and bassist Alex Lofoco both sport bizarrely impressive instruments, with notably more strings and less headstocks than you might expect, and they are utilised to the fullness of their capabilities. Olivier Castan, a past veteran of Franck Carducci’s band along with Jimmy, is effortlessly impressive. There are times here when this material demands a musical tightness preventing a cigarette paper being pushed between them, and they pull it off with aplomb. Frontman/woman-wise there is no problem here: Hayley Griffiths, as anyone who has seen her fronting her own band or during her time with Karnataka will know, is simply born to perform physically as well as vocally, and the addition of Heather Findlay guesting on a few songs gives things an extra level. Charlie Bramald, meanwhile, is simply a law unto himself; simply put, I have never seen anyone looking quite so happy to be onstage performing this stuff and bringing enjoyment to people. He throws everything into his dramatic performance, but even as he gives his most intense, scenery-chewing moments, a smile will spread itself unbidden across his face, as if he’s saying ‘ah, come on guys, I love a bit of drama, but isn’t it just awesome to be here doing this!’, which the audience certainly warm to. It’s a little like a bizarre mix of Peter Gabriel and Keith Chegwin fighting over the same body, and it’s simply impossible not to share the enthusiasm. In a world which has seen stories recently of bands such as Royal Blood storming offstage in an Axl Rose manner, one gets the feeling that even if Charlie found his entire family had been kidnapped and held hostage by the sound man, he would limit himself to a stern rebuke before continuing. This is the sort of joyous love for the music and the show which flows through the whole of the Zio band, and it’s something you can’t overstate.

This may not have been the biggest venue Zio will play this year. It may not be the biggest they’ll play this week for that matter, but to the show it is a matter of unimportance, as these guys just love what they’re doing, and dare you not to love it too. It doesn’t matter where you come from, who you are, or what audience you find yourself in – with Zio, you’re always in The Rock And Roll Capital Of The World. And isn’t that really what it’s all about when it comes down to it? I think so.

Charlie Bramald, daring you not to enjoy yourself…