Zola Jesus is tiny. Her presence and voice, however, are massive.
As a result her entire set at the Bluebird in Denver seemed to dwell in paradox. She stomped around on the tips of her toes. She filled the stage while standing completely still. She transformed the space into a vast frozen expanse as she thrashed her way across it, hair flying and arms waving. It was enthralling.
She played her most recent album Taiga almost in its entirety and in order. Her second song and Taiga’s lead single, “Dangerous Days”, received a positive audience reaction, but one that paled in comparison to later songs such as “Hunger”. Three songs in on “Dust” she found her stride – and never lost it. She stalked across the stage dragging the microphone behind her like a carcass. Her movements, the fascinating blend of a warrior queen surveying conquered lands and a madwoman suffering a psychotic break, made it impossible to turn away. But (as is always the case with Zola) the most striking element of her performance was that impossibly clear voice.
The night’s most extraordinary moment came when she opened “Nail” a capella and without her microphone, her voice filling every corner of the theater and transfixing the crowd on its own. The moment proved that Taiga reaches its fulfillment in performance rather than on record, just as she is her most fearless self in person. Microphone or not, this is her stage, her night, her time, her territory. Don’t blink.
Zola closed her set with the muted dreamscape of “Night” from 2010’s Stridulum II, before returning for a two-song encore. All night she had wandered between the manic and the tranquil, and in the final moments she chose mania. She raged across the stage during “Vessel”, then threw herself to the ground and crawled offstage as it shimmered to a close.
Her final statement? The audience standing in disbelief and wonder for a few seconds afterward.
Long Way Down