Review Zola Jesus Show: Violently Sublime

zola jesus zola jesus

Well planned.

A night well put together. A show which is balanced and well thought out. A night that takes you on a journey and leaves you overwhelmed but satisfied, like a good lover.

Do I have your attention?

Let’s start with the venue choice, an intimate spot tucked away on St. Pierre. Phi Centre is a place reserved for media and performances with a singular purpose — art.

The importance of this venue in the experience is two-fold. One is association. Through the venue’s art-centric values, it presents elements that are complementary to the artist’s songs (e.g. architecture), and attracts a crowd that is much more likely to enjoy the experimental nuances of the artist. The second is the intimacy that the chosen space creates, giving the performance both more substance and power.

As the people began to crowd the small space, the opener took center stage, two lovely young ladies, facing each other. Meet Deradoorian. The energy was one of an impromptu show as they began making their songs on the spot in front of us, layering vocals, synths, strings and percussion live and then sequencing them into loops through various machines they controlled with their feet. It was at times a minimal showing while entertaining with strong voices, subtle tones and psychedelic nuances. There were moments where there was a cacophony of sounds and yet they would come together seamlessly to create an intriguing experience, almost tribal. It was a great way to warm up and create balance for things to come.

Zola Jesus is an American of Russian descent, real name Nika Danilova. A young woman with a perfectionist mentality, working hard on her craft, putting herself in spaces and situations that allowed her to create the acoustic experience she wished to portray. As proof, she has been singing opera since a young age, obsessing over developing her voice and putting herself in solitude to be able to focus on her craft by eschewing society in remote and secluded places. She also writes and produces her songs, helped design her stage set, and chose the venue. All this created a very personal performance.

Taiga – the album, didn’t prepare me for my live experience with said Taiga. As the band members took their position and began filling the air with sounds of vastness and landscapes, Zola sang. She sang with presence, with strong vocals that sounded better than on the mastered record. Some one minute and a half into the first song, the songstress and her band errupted in a violent display of percussion and erratic dance. Throughout the night, the theme continued at a similar pace. Zola, threw herself into the songs, built up with soulful singing and transcendental acoustics while the band slowly moved the tone along towards the same climax of strong emotions and aggressive, primal movements. Each time was more intense than the last. Miss Jesus’ control over our experience and attention was on display as, without notice, on Nail, her ninth song of the night, she started singing a cappella sans microphone causing everybody to lower the sound of their breath. It was an amazing moment as her voice still managed to fill the whole room and to move me and those around me to an instant of elation. As the show ended, the crowd’s applause brought the musicians back for two encores that ended with Zola truly putting all the emotions she had left on display. In the final moments of her performance, the dark haired lovely lost herself in her creation through purely emotional dance, first throwing herself into the crowd and then crashing to the floor, spent.

Personally, it was a night of awe as I was quite impressed both with the music that fused many eclectic elements and more so with Zola’s performance that evoked so many emotions. Her sound has some pop elements mixed with acoustics that allude to epic film scores as well as electronic synth intrusion and strong, sometime metal-like percussions. I’m not sure how this would translate to a larger venue but having seen the experience that her band and Zola herself was able to create, I am quite confident that it would be sublime no matter the circumstances. The show was one of intensity and satisfaction and I hope that you are compelled to give her a few minutes of your undivided attention.