Zola Jesus is a work of art, full-stop. Watching her present her 5th album Okovi live in an intimate space is almost an out-of-body experience. Between hiding underneath her red cape, she dances manically while her classically trained voice penetrates deep down into each of our souls - first and foremost an impressive physical performance, that, together with the industrial electronic sounds, takes her audience into a mystical, dark realm.
Refreshingly, her on-stage persona only ever lasts as long as the duration of the songs as she breaks out into casual banter with the audience in between. Nika Roza Danilova is actually hilarious as she shares anecdotes about her guitarist's suitcase getting lost on a British Airways flight and having to dig into thrift stores, and (quote) 'takes the piss out of English people' for their no-nonsense attitude, breaking her character and apologizing: 'Sorry, I forgot that I'm on stage!'
A more vulnerable moment is when Danilova opens up about her uncle's multiple attempted suicides and the passing of a loved one, experiences that shaped her song Witness, the performance an emotional peak of the night as the audience listens closely, holding their breath as not to disturb the intimacy.
Whenever a song finishes, the crowd hangs on until the very last note and pulls itself together before exploding into applause. She breaks into Exhume by rocking back and forth on the floor in her red cape, pulling them further into her mystical, magical world. At the end of the song, she crawls into the bemused audience like a possessed ghost, sings opera-like one second and makes noises that sound straight out of a horror movie the next.
One of the encores, Skin, transports us back into a different space yet again, which seems far away from the impulsive art figure but instead creates a deeply human moment for everyone in the room.
Zola Jesus will transform your life for an hour and a half. It's an utterly distinct experience to listening to her records, illustrating more than anything the power of live music.