Review and photos – Zola Jesus at Venue, Vancouver, Jan 10 2015
– review by Thalia Stopa/photos by Kirk Chantraine
One thing was clear at Venue last Saturday night: Nika Roza Danilova is a powerhouse. Although openers Deradoorian set a dark, ethereal atmosphere for the Seattle-based headliner, the mood in the room jumped several gears when Danilova, aka Zola Jesus, took the stage. The new-Goth rock diva thrashed and headbanged like a pro to the danceable cacophony of percussion, synths and trombone provided by her three-piece backing band.
But the standout moment of the night was also the quietest. Danilova sang an a capella intro to her song “Nail” before launching into the amplified chorus lyric “Set me free!” At this point in the night, the woman was already eight songs deep but her naked voice was still going at full force. The track perfectly embodied Danilova’s recent approach to songwriting (the songs for her latest album, Taiga were conceived of as a capella) and her impressive ability to create large, multilayered pop while retaining her roots in opera and vocal training.
The 25-year-old performed outfitted in an architectural black jumpsuit with shoulders that mimicked armor, on a stage set with a white paper sculpture looming ghostly behind her. After a short ambience-building musical prelude that arced from hymnal to high-volume clamor, Danilova, drenched in teal and blue lights, vogued along to the danceable track “Dangerous Days”. Her voice and the bass dilated in unison for the next number, “Dust”. After a dramatic mid-song pause, the music and strobes went into hyper-speed as Danilova electrified the audience by whipping her long blonde locks like frenzied tentacles. Title track “Taiga” started slowly, with a trombone intro and marching band rhythm. It rolled over the crowd like a gathering storm and, fueled by the singer’s incredibly forceful low voice, grew into a thunderous performance lit by lightning-flashes of strobes.
Zola Jesus’s set focused on the more defined, energetic new material off Taiga, her fifth full-length. After “Ego” and the more sensual “Go(Blank Sea)”, Danilova took a break mid-set for an old song. Her announcement of the change in pace elicited gleeful whoops from the audience. However, amidst her new material, older songs like “Sea Talk” (off of 2010’s Stridulum II LP) lacked dynamics and felt not fully realized. On the other hand, the opening track from the same album, “Night”, held up against Taiga’s tracks with on-par dramatics. It provided apt closure as the final number before her encore, the slow and solemn “Skin” from Conatus (2011).
Deradoorian is the side-project from Angel Deradoorian, a member of the experimental indie rock group Dirty Projectors. Deradoorian and her bandmate were set up centre-stage with their respective synths and drum machines facing inwards, and singing to each other. Their sound, which features harmonic low hymnal chanting and soprano wailing weaving through a psychedelic- and, at times, folk- and tribal-influenced electronic soundscape, is vaguely reminiscent of Grouper or Fever Ray.
The room was sparsely populated at the start of their performance and slowly filled as the two women warmed up and gained momentum. However, the duo lacked the memorability or uniqueness of Dirty Projectors and were a disappointing and uninspiring beginning to the night.