Ethereal, Elegant, Exquisite – Zola Jesus: A Review


An ample amount of dry ice filled the main space of Village Underground, Shoreditch in anticipation of the performance of Wisconsin raised Zola Jesus.

The combination of Puccini’s aria from Madame Butterfly ‘Un bel di’ sung by Maria Callas, the smoke, and the beautifully lofty hall produced an atmospheric and almost gothic effect.

If the serene and tranquil space hadn’t set the tone for the evening already, Devon Welsh’s set certainly did. The member of Canadian duo Majical Cloudz seemed put off by the stage and started his performance on the floor surrounded by the crowd. He performed a number of heartfelt and moving tracks about love, heartbreak and childhood, eventually having to move back up onto the stage so that the members of the eager audience further back in the room were able to see him.

An industrial space made to feel gothic was a near perfect reflection of Zola Jesus’ sound. Industrial, modern electronic music that features elements of a goth. The set mainly featured tracks from Jesus’ recently realised album Okovi. Zola Jesus’ voice is hugely powerful and washed from the stage with real force and urgency. Okovi is a Slavic word for shackles and although as the artist suggests ‘we’re all shackled to something’ these shackles seem to increase the strength and intensity of Jesus’ performance.

The artist was joined on stage by her long-time collaborator Alex DeGroot and a viola player who Jesus co-opted into her touring band in Australia. The melancholic, soaring strings were most noticeable during ‘Witness’. This is a track about a close relative’s multiple suicide attempts. ‘Exhumed’, the first single from the new album, was strikingly performed accompanied by bold strobe effects and jarring, theatrical movements from the performers. The simple staging left space for graphic visuals that were projected on the vast back wall, enhancing but never distracting. There was a balance of solemnity and sincerity within the playing of ‘Soak’, however, the track definitely was not lacking in energy or passion.

After a call for an encore by an exuberant audience, Jesus rounded off the evening with a serene track that brought an element of stillness back to the venue.

It was evident she left the ethereal space as calm as she had found it.


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