Zola Jesus, in calmer repose than she held during most of her performance at Trees
Zola Jesus, in calmer repose than she held during most of her performance at Trees
Jeff Elstone

Zola Jesus Played with a Feral Intensity at Trees Last Night

Zola Jesus With Deradoorian Trees, Dallas Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Wednesday night was cold and rainy and, well, it was a Wednesday. But Zola Jesus, the project of Nika Roza Danilova, managed to bring a decent crowd to Trees. Danilova has a fiery, operatic voice and a great little touring band playing experimental electronic pop music. The lighting for the stage setup was sparse. Often you could not see Danilova clearly. But when you got a good look at her she seemed crazed or even rabid, such was the intensity that she brought to her performance.

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When the curtains opened and Zola Jesus appeared, the crowd cheered and whistled and everyone crammed towards the stage. The stage was dark except for a blow-up ice cap that glowed a hazy purple. When she stood motionless in front of the microphone she was rendered in shadow, her arms hanging lifelessly from her body, pointed straight up into the air, or folded like a praying mantis'.

She danced frenziedly, sometimes with a strange head-banging motion, and she fell over a few times. Danilova's voice was flawless, capable of soft, acappella vocals that lulled the room into silent appreciation. But her stage presence was also fierce and primal, resembling an angry lion in a glass cage. But she broke that invisible wall between performer and audience a number of times.

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If you were close to the stage Danilova may have screamed in your face. If she did, she probably came out of nowhere and you could probably feel her voice on your face. It was like a hair dryer. And it was really surprising if you were, say, trying to take a picture of her. But it was extraordinary to be that close and hear her voice coming out of her mouth rather than the speakers.

Sometimes Danilova walked across the stage with knees spread and bent, forearms relaxed and swinging, like a monkey. At one point she climbed up on the speakers and sang to the crowd. Soon after that, Danilova climbed down off the stage and into the crowd for half a song.

As far as the rest of the music, Zola Jesus' small touring band is energetic and dynamic. Daniel Walter Eaton's trombone sounded especially great; it was the icing on the cake, bringing some bona fide orchestral brass to the mix. Eaton often played to Michael Pinaud's drums, but also sounded mysterious and anthemic when he went off on his own, taking strange pauses and making interesting use of space. Los Angeles audio engineer and producer Alex DeGroot rounded out the group on synth and added an ambience to the sound that was gothic without being sluggish.

Towards the end of the set, Danilova explained that Dallas is close to her heart because Maria Callas performed here. Indeed, Callas performed at the Dallas Civic Opera and it was one of the few U.S. performances from the iconic opera singer. Zola Jesus came back for a two-song encore, at the end of which Danilova danced wildly until she fell over. From there she proceeded to crawl off the stage.

Far less intense but certainly still fascinating was opener Deradoorian. Named for lead singer Angel Deradoorian, who used to be the bassist and co-vocalist for Dirty Projectors and is also in Slasher Flicks with boyfriend Avey Tare of Animal Collective, the duo put on a great show.

Deradoorian built each song out of loops created on the spot using a flute, finger snapping, vocals, drums and a keyboard. Then Deradoorian sang lead while playing a keyboard or bass; her drummer sang backup vocals. The music was slow and very steady. The backup vocals, typically the ones that were looped, were often folky.

The songs felt like R&B exercises. Deradoorian has an incredible voice and a knack for countermelodies. The songs were at a medium tempo, driven by drums that sporadically increased in intensity, making it sound heavier. The duo stood at the center of the stage facing each other, standing sideways to the crowd, who pretty well filled the area between the stage and bar by the time Deradoorian finished.


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