Out and About: Zola Jesus
  • TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 21, 2012

  • Posted by: Don Saas

Sometimes, we are really forced to question the logic that goes into the opener decision. Whether it's because the openers simply don't have the talent or professionalism to open for an established performer or they are from such a distinctly different style of music, it doesn't seem like common sense sometimes goes into picking these acts which have the power to set the tone for the rest of the event. Can you imagine a buzzy noise band opening for a slickpop act like Real Estate? Well, we can since we covered a show where Black Dice opened for Real Estate. Well, at the recent Zola Jesus show at Webster Hall in the Village, her moody brand of post-industrial ambient goth was opened by two acts (Liturgy and Talk Normal) whose presence on the same stage as the meticulous and incredibly talented Zola Jesus, doesn't make much sense.

The first opener, Talk Normal, is a noise rock act from Brooklyn that consists of two women, lead vocalist and guitarist Sarah Register and drummer Andrya Ambro. If completely non-melodic and seemingly random guitar sections and arrhythmic wailing on your drums is your cup of tea, then Talk Normal may fit the bill for bands who take the "noise" aspect of noise rock very seriously. For their entire 30-45 minute set, they performed exactly one song that had anything remotely resembling an understandable melody (and Andrya Ambro went delightfully gonzo on her drum kit), but for the rest of their act, it was simply impenetrable walls of noise that seemed to be boring the audience who were growing increasingly restless for Zola.

The last opening act, Liturgy, actually seemed like a talented and interesting group, if not a very a conventional fit considering who was playing next. A melodic black metal band with legitimate sonic ambitions, Liturgy showed considerable skills with their guitars, moving in and out of classic speed metal thrashing and more experimental (and therefore more interesting) melodic noise. The crowd's reaction to them was far more positive than the almost ironic clapping which Talk Normal received and if there was any knock to be raised against Liturgy's performance, it was that it often bordered on being self-indulgent and repetitive. Whenever interesting tempo changes and pick-ups occurred, you'd often spend far too long listening to them play the same couple of chords over and over.

Zola Jesus made any nitpicking over her openers a moot issue when she took the stage. For those not in the know, Zola Jesus (nee Nika Danilova) is a solo act by a Midwestern raised as an opera singer. A diminutive 4'11" and 90 pounds, petit barely begins to describe her (think Angela from The Office since there's even a slight physical resemblance) but when she opens her mouth and sings, she gains control of an entire room faster than you can snap your fingers. She mostly works solo on her studio albums, but she had a live band for the show (a synthesizer, drummer, and violinist) although you would be totally forgiven for not taking your eyes off Zola for a second because she was simply a marvel.

Flinging her body across the stage like a spastic mix of Thom Yorke in the video for "Lotus Flower" and John Belushi's hyperbolic exaggeration of Joe Cocker's stage moves, Zola put a feral animalistic energy into every second of her act. While belting out nearly the entirety of her last album, Conatus (as well as a couple tracks from Stridulum), Zola bowled the crowd over with her one of a kind voice and her gorgeous arrangements that backed her up. Zola has sharpened her voice into the fiercest musical weapon you can imagine and she wields it with the precision of an old pro which belies the fact that she's only 22 years old. It was a stunning performance and if you've never had the chance to hear Zola live, we highly recommend it. You will never have the chance to hear such a bombastic voice come from such a little body ever again.






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