The aspiring chanteuse has many role models to choose from these days — the radiowaves (Internetwaves? Do people listen to radio?) seem especially packed with lady rockstars. For inspiration she can choose the calm indie charm of Feist, the ever-growing cult of Lykke Li or even the bellowing omnipresence of Adele. One little lady might be slipping under the radar, but if her performance at Lincoln Hall last Wednesday is any indication; she won’t be overlooked for long.
Zola Jesus is a lesson in contradiction. It’s generally improper to focus on the physical proportions of an artist, but for the inimitable Nika Roza Danilova (Zola Jesus) it serves as an appropriate launching point. Zola Jesus is small — like, 4’11’’ — and hardly bantamweight. At first sight, one might assume she’s of the squeaky, twee school of indie singers. Listening to just one song quickly shakes off that illusion.
Her music, in two words: dark and muscular. Brooding overtones and throbbing bass set the low-end while driving, emphatic drumming gets the crowd moving. But then this tiny little thing takes the stage.
This night, she was dressed in a shining white mix between couture, flowing gown and lampshade — something your grandmother would call “sensible.” She grabs the mic, lets a quick smile slip then BOOMS out in an impossibly rich, throaty and powerful voice. As the music builds she flits about the stage, spinning, dancing and singing in a cacophony of visual and aural stimulation. She doesn’t participate in the screeching that has become de rigueur in this post-American Idol world. She knows her tone and stays within the low registers, emphasizing with heart, not hysterics.
Near the mid-point of the show she took her charming crowd interaction to another level. She clipped off her mic and jumped into a stunned audience. Sailing around the room, it was impossible to keep track as she ran to and fro, weaving in and out of the audience, singing all the while. She was a swirl of white, turning heads and dropping jaws. From the show’s beginning there was a super-fan up front singing and dancing along the whole time. As Zola Jesus returned to the stage, she stopped in front of the fan and began jumping up and down with him in time. Soon the whole front row was jumping and singing ecstatically. Even a hardened concert veteran like myself, who has seen all sorts of stage antics successful and otherwise, couldn’t help but be impressed by her genuine, intoxicating and contagious enthusiasm.
One must commend Zola Jesus for touring with a band (three multi-instrumentalists and a drummer). Her music is essentially a solo project and would likely have been enjoyable had she sung to a drum machine. But the energy provided by her band, though they at times looked like misfits from a Sprockets casting session, was essential to the power of the show.
Zola Jesus’ set was constructed wonderfully as the last four or five songs lead to a tremendous climax. It’s unfortunate that the same night of the show Portishead came to town for a much hyped-show. It’s easy to imagine many crossover fans of both artists. Regardless, those who came out were treated to an amazing show from an artist who may soon be rivaling Feist, Lykke Li and others in acclaim.