CMJ, Day Two: Zola Jesus, Xanopticon
Better than: Not not seeing her.
The view from the audience at last night’s Zola Jesus show was as follows: Two keyboardists, a violinist, and a drum-kit, presumably with a drummer behind it. They were shrouded in a dark, blue-ish glow that radiated outward from the single spotlight center-stage. The singer herself was invisible to anyone past the first three rows of the jam-packed (Le) Poisson Rouge, although her voice is another story.
For someone who has been so vocally insecure about performing work off recent release Conatus, Nika Roza doesn’t show it. This is perhaps what makes her such a gripping performer. She has the kind of voice that had a few hundred people intently staring down an empty spotlight as it moved around stage, fully knowing that audience wouldn’t shrink, nor would the goth-queen float up to meet our eye-level. While her appearance is chilly—a combination of her long bleached hair, which hides her face, and her flowy stage getups—her voice is haunting and awe-inspiring in the way an classically trained opera singer’s would be while also being strangely inviting.
Her Siren-esque quality emerged as a theme for the night. The singer brought us in to her world of mystic introspection with an earnest, heart-stopping rendition of “Sea Talk,” during which the warmly layered synths was enough to make us emotional. “Seekir,” on which Roza deeply moaned a repeated line of “Is there nothing there?” was another highlight. The pounding of drums and dramatic violin builds forced even the most stoic onlookers to bop along. (Dancing at a Zola Jesus show! It happened!) But it was “Vessel,” the lead track off her new album, that was the night’s true “performance piece.” While flailing around stage, nearly shrinking to the floor with every pounding of the bass drum, the tiny singer raised her hands to the sky, seemingly forgetting that there was anyone else in the room. Despite the violent head bangs and glowing spotlight worship, she never missed a note.
Critical bias: My friends and I have spent a lot of time thinking about this woman.
Overheard: “Where do you think she buys her pants?”
Random notebook dump: LPR needs a higher stage.
Zola Jesus Set list:
In your Nature
Lick the Palm
Run Me Out