Zola Jesus @ The Bowery Ballroom

by Jen Hazen

Zola Jesus (aka Russian/American singer Nika Roza Danilova) is a pint-sized powerhouse of operatic enchantment. No, really. She’s tiny. And her voice is huge. I know what you’re saying. “Jen. Why so dramatic? Please.” But Danilova’s show at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom last Saturday was nothing short of mesmerizing theatrics. I can’t just say, “Girl got up on stage and sang like hell.” That would just be wrong. The bleach-blonde siren took the stage like a tempest in full force wearing a voluminous orange hooded cape, gray short shorts, and gray leggings sans shoes. (Yes, she was barefoot. No, she wasn’t wearing black.) Like a bat out of hell, she frantically paced back and forth as one song blended into another, the cape bellowing around her like a parachute. As the drum intro to “I Can’t Stand” thumped through the ballroom, Danilova stopped darting around and stepped up to the mic like a statue, gazed out into the audience, and belted out the clearest, most beautiful, classically trained voice I’ve heard live in a long time. She seriously sounds better live than on her records. (Is this possible?) She hits these crazy notes that you’d think could only be manufactured by some kick-ass producer’s hocus pocus. Nope, just her voice. It’s mind-blowing really. Danilova played several songs off her latest EP Stridulum accompanied by three keyboardists. One of them was playing an old school ’80s Yamaha DX. Nice. Oh, and there was a drummer, of course. For the kinda club-friendly song, “Poor Animal,” the violinist of opening act Cult of Youth joined the band on stage. For one of the final songs, Danilova literally jumped off the stage and started dancing around in the crowd as she sang. The audience seemed a little stunned and slowly gave her a space to perform right in front of them. After the initial shock wore off, a sea of camera phones were held up in the air, obviously recording a totally unexpected moment to end an amazing show.

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