Live: Zola Jesus. Toynbee Studios, London. 26/9/11. 9/10.

Zola Jesus, the alter ego of Nika Roza Danilova, returns to London to celebrate the release of her highly acclaimed new album Conatus. With the term ‘conatus’ being a reference to personal enhancement, Danilova recently stated: “I really appreciate artists that constantly evolve and challenge themselves.” Whether her audience tonight feel the same way, remains to be seen.

First of all, Breton take to the stage, standing unassumingly before an artistic visual accompaniment.  It’s easy to see why even the band themselves find it difficult to describe what it is they do. Veering off into many different tangents throughout their 30-minute set, Breton create a wall of sound, blending together hip-hop, electronica and spiky, irresistible riffs. There’s no stage presence to talk about here, but it’s a wonderful showcase of undoubtedly great things to come.

After the most bizarre of intervals, with the likes of the Pink Panther theme tune and Soulja Boy being played over and over again, Zola Jesus creeps onto the dimly lit stage, backed by three shadowy figures. Dressed in a white cloak and with her face covered by a shock of bright white hair, she stalks the stage like a woman possessed.

Opening with ‘Avalanche’, propelled by crashing drums and eerie synths, Danilova demonstrates the majesty of her vocal prowess. There’s a real emotional power to her voice – there would be similarities to Florence & The Machine, if Florence realised that she didn’t have to shout all the bloody time.  Musically and lyrically though, the two are polar opposites.  The dark atmosphere that hangs heavy tonight is most evident as Danilova falls to her knees during a spellbinding performance of ‘Collapse.’ The intense melancholy is somewhat unsettling, but it’s a moment of real beauty and emotional honesty.

Although this evening is all about the new album, some old favourites are unleashed. In particular, ‘Night’, which would have been a massive hit if we lived in a just and fair world, reveals itself to be an affecting and grand highlight of the set.

The arrival of Conatus suggested growth, and there’s plenty in abundance with ‘Ixode’, a new song led by an impulsive electronic beat, which sees Danilova chanting to herself, as though she is summoning evil spirits and begging them to dance throughout the night. Lead single ‘Vessel’ then provides the thrilling climax to the evening as she explodes in a fit of fury and joins in with the propulsive, chaotic drumming.  It’s a frightening, captivating conclusion to a stunning and mesmerising performance.

Returning to the stage for a gorgeous encore of ‘Run Me Out’, Danilova’s extraordinary vocal delivery seems almost too powerful, almost inhuman for someone of her fragile and miniscule frame. With nothing left to give, she then stalks off stage to rapturous applause. Into the end of the night.

From Craig Jones

Sucking Lemons.


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