Zs Deep Water Church, Halifax NS, May 27

Zs Deep Water Church, Halifax NS, May 27
Photo: Steve Louie
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When there's a laptop onstage during a performance — let alone two laptops — it's all too easy to cast doubts as to the source of the music you're hearing. What's smart about a band like acclaimed New York avant-garde trio Zs is that while they're more than eager to build their bewildering soundscapes to gigantic, noisy peaks, they also frequently dial things back to a minimalist core so you can tell that, yes, those sounds are coming from the musicians onstage.
 
Not without help, mind you — in the case of guitarist Patrick Higgins, especially, his laptop and series of pedals allowed him to transform his guitar into an instrument seemingly from some unknown nether-region in which all boundaries between melody and percussion have been erased. In the first segment of the show, for example (the band performed for three long stretches), he created dizzying sounds that echoed fingers dancing their way across metal or wood — which, of course, is what guitar playing literally is, but rarely sounds like.
 
Watching Zs' set, I found myself drawn to different parts of each performer's person. With Higgins, it was his left hand, performing a spider's dance across the neck of his guitar. For drummer Greg Fox, it was his head, which felt unmoored from his neck as it aimed to align with the complementary, oft-frantic rhythms his hands were creating. And with saxophonist and group founder Sam Hillmer, it was all in the knees, which would buckle as the band's intensity rose and he collapsed down into the stage to let loose a hellfire of woodwind fury. It made for a fevered, physical performance.