Zola Jesus Gave a Short, Physical and Powerful Performance in Denver
Zola Jesus played just long enough in Denver.
The show was exactly an hour in length -- it may not have been intentional, but Nika Rosa Danilova snuck onto the stage at the Bluebird Theater last night at 9:15 p.m. sharp and tumbled her way off at exactly 10:15 p.m. It felt short, but it was enough -- Danilova's Zola Jesus project is the perfect exercise in operatic darkness-meets-R&B, but one too many songs began to sound the same. The sameness wasn't a detriment at all; Danilova's voice is a wonder, and being able to watch it come out of her as she exercised ritualistic movements with her arms was plenty engaging.
Without fanfare, the singer stepped out in front of the near-full room at the Bluebird Theater to a stage decorated with a miniature white mountain of crystals and a handful of fabric rock formations scattered about. Through songs like "Dangerous Days" and "Hunger," Danilova vacillated between slow and calculated choreography and fits of flailing arms. At points during the show, she would crouch on the floor, only to rise and break from the mystery for a moment to say hello and smile before falling back into solemn stage persona.
Clad in all black accented only by bands of gold on her fingers, wrist and bicep, the gentle and wild movements were accented by the backlit rocks, which changed color subtly throughout the the night. It felt a lot like the only other show Danilova has played here -- at the Larimer Lounge in 2012 -- which was equally full of ceremonial gestures and the atmospheric textures of light and sound.
She continued to step through songs like "Ego" and "Sea Talk," her powerful voice going full force over the recorded tracks and minimal live accompaniment of her band. At times, her opera training combined with a vocal style heavily referencing mid-'90s R&B was so clearly meshed and set on top of the music instead of being hidden within static and noise as it has been in the past was refreshing.
Underneath her gothic exterior, Danilova is a unique and powerful pop singer -- best evidenced in her halfway a capella version of "Nail," the vocalist hit notes that felt like the air was taken right out of the room. Towards the end of the evening, Danilova lept from the stage and into the crowd, zig-zagging through her followers and high-fiving them as she she sang "Night."
Once she returned to the stage, she walked off with her band momentarily, returning for an encore less than a minute after the departure. Danilova crept into "Skin" and then exploded into "Dust," the lights picking up speed as she threw herself around and crawled off into the night, at 10:15 p.m. sharp.
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