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Zola Jesus

(3 Feb 2012: The Parish — Austin, TX)

Nika Roza Danilova ably proved that she belongs in an elite category of performers with her group’s set at the Parish. Not only does the Zola Jesus front woman possess one of the most dynamic and distinctive voices of the past few years, her commanding stage presence and readily apparent dedication to her craft completely transformed the mid-sized venue into something of her own creation. One would be hard pressed to find a reason to take their eyes off of Danilova throughout the group’s hour long run, as she is one of those rare musicians whose personality is completely infused with her performance. Although she had little to no interaction with the audience, everything she needed to say manifested itself in the way she single handedly captured the room.


Although Danilova is the main focus of any Zola Jesus show, it has to be said that her backing band plays just as big a part in the mystique and intrigue of the group’s music. The three musicians perfectly recreated the atmospherics of songs like “Hikikomori” and “Shivers”, and the way the sound filled out the indoor space of the Parish sounded perfectly natural. The inclusion of a touring violinist worked to fill out the group’s already unique sound even further, lending the arrangements even more depth when combined with the thundering percussion and ominously beautiful synth work, and provided the perfect backdrops for Danilova to display her talents.


Danilova’s classical opera training has been a major focus of almost everyone that writes about her, and for good reason. Her vocal performance at the Parish was nothing short of stunning, as her rich and full alto was executed with a kind of control and finesse that can only come from years of classical training and study. Much like a professional opera singer, her voice positively soared over the arrangements without overpowering them, and it is hard to believe such a force could come from a 22-year old. One could only marvel at her seeming effortlessness in bringing songs like “In Your Nature” and longtime fan favorite “Night” to life, and there were plenty moments of awe-inspiring beauty throughout the group’s set that could be attributed to her powerhouse of a voice.


After beginning the set by standing still, Danilova put the mic stand aside and began to prove herself a true front woman. During third song “Stridulum”, she stood on top of a platform while making grand arm gestures, and “Collapse” saw her sitting on one of the cube like fixtures she brought on stage while singing lines like “it hurts to let you in” with equal amounts of force and restraint. At one point during “Seekir”, Danilova descended into the crowd and got the first several rows jumping and dancing around her, a truly exciting moment. Despite the intense amount of concentration she exuded, it was not hard to tell that she was completely enjoying herself, and those in attendance were happy to return the favor.


Though she left the stage with little more than a “Thank you, Austin,” Danilova and Zola Jesus had accomplished what they set out to do. Their set had completely transfixed those in attendance, and left little doubt the band is a live force. Zola Jesus may deal in the dark and mysterious, but their performance managed to be both uplifting and inviting, an exhibition of a young and unique talent with a long career ahead of her.

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