Zola Jesus Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver BC May 3
Published May 05, 2011Despite releasing music under the Zola Jesus moniker for a mere three years, Wisconsin native Nika Roza Danilova has already amassed a large back catalogue, with each new release only bringing in more fans. Musically, she has come a long way since that debut seven-inch, which was a lo-fi dirge through industrial territory that had more in common with Throbbing Gristle than Kate Bush, a comparison that's recently popped up alongside her name. Danilova's most recent twelve-inches, Stridulum and Valusia, have seen her veer more towards a polished aesthetic, with the songwriter distancing herself from those noisier roots. While the newer recordings, both lush and vibrant, have translated well from the studio, the live show is another matter.
Entering the stage draped in a large red top, the diminutive Zola Jesus was flanked by three keyboardists/synth players and a drummer. A mostly younger audience rushed the stage to catch a glimpse of her in her first Vancouver appearance. Sadly, the well-orchestrated songs of recent releases, some of them featuring strings and cascading piano lines, became a mushy mess of flavourless goth atmospherics onstage. A wall of sound washed out from the band, but the discernible melodies and hooks were nowhere to be heard. Each song bled into the next with little perceptible difference between any of them.
Danilova, a classically trained vocalist, had her powerful voice pushed to the front of the mix, and it's certainly the most appealing and striking part of the Zola Jesus world. That being said, the vocal histrionics were out of place next to the watered-down gothic keyboards. At times, she came off almost as a broodier version of Christina Aguilera, hitting those hard-to-reach notes and guiding them there with hand movements that you're more likely to see on American Idol than in a dank club -- not that most of the crowd seemed to care or notice, as a half packed Biltmore remained glued in their spots during her brief set.
Perhaps Danilova's vocal training is simply meant to co-exist alongside an actual orchestra, a proposition that probably isn't too far away considering her increasing profile and musical ascent.