Touring sporadically in recent months, Nika Roza Danilova, better known as Zola Jesus, dropped by Moogfest 2017 recently to perform a haunting set at Motorco Music Hall in Durham, North Carolina. Intense and introspective as ever, Zola Jesus performed some new songs in the outdoor venue as she weaved her body into her music.
A song tentatively titled “Find You” by some on the web was a haunting number driven by sparse instrumentation including a violin, emphasizing what I have labeled Zola Jesus’ lean into trip hop in recent years, as her powerful voice stood in a separate wall before the music, directing our experience in hearing it. On stage, Zola Jesus was clad in a simple black dress with black hair, barefoot, as she reached her arms out toward the audience or up toward the sky, adding to the impression that she was more apparition than person.
Zola Jesus soon entered familiar territory for those of us with even a passing familiarity with her work as she rolled out the popular “Dangerous Days” from her last album, Taiga, released in 2014 via Mute Records. She paced the stage purposefully but without true direction as the familiar thumping of the song filled our ears. Soon, she affixed herself to the center of the stage and paced onto an extension before it, as she lyrically warned of a “dark dark day.” From that vantage, Zola Jesus seemed much more open, approachable, physical as she sang directly into the crowd, which attentively absorbed her words.
Another haunting new song evoked ghostly matters in phrases with Zola Jesus singing of being trapped by ghosts and limbo. Like her first new song in the set, the instrumentation of the song was slow and methodical, and far less pop than the material on Taiga, which admittedly is not a conventional pop record at start. The song may well be called “Be a Witness” as she cried out several times in the refrain: “To be a witness/to those deep deep wounds/to resist it/to keep the knife from you.”
Despite its foreboding lyrics, Nika delivered the song in a very tranquil performance. As the show progressed, she returned to familiar songs like “Odessa” from 2008’s The Spoils, “Nail,” also from Taiga, and “Skin” from 2012’s Conatus, rather fairly covering her entire four album catalog to date.
Zola Jesus has not yet formally announced any new releases, and she has only an odd handful of performance dates scheduled, such as a show on July 20 at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. I suspect we will soon hear more from her and see her here in DC as she firms up her plans.
Here are some more pictures of Zola Jesus performing at Motorco Music Hall on May 19 during Moogfest 2017.