TVD Live: Zola Jesus with JG Thirlwell and the Mivos Quartet at
the Guggenheim, 5/10

My fourth time seeing Nika Roza Danilova play live under the Zola Jesus moniker, and, finally, everything seemed right.

Always a big fan of her records, I had yet to feel the music fully captured in a live performance. I’ve enjoyed the previous shows if for no other reason than watching someone express something that is real, and genuine always trumps perfect instrumentation or the right mix. But this show at the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan captured the power of Zola Jesus as none before.

If you’ve been before, you know the Guggenheim is a beautiful, spiral, white building famously designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, an aesthetic fitting with Zola Jesus’ blonde hair and all-white attire; most notably consisting of an eye-catching LED-lit neckpiece designed by Jenni Hensler that drew immediate cheers.

Under the massive skylight atop the cylindrical structure was a large and intimidatingly well-dressed art-crowd, evidence of Zola Jesus’ rising popularity. She straddles that interesting space where cutting-edge and accessible overlap; a rare but exciting cultural moment to inhabit.

Special for this show, she was backed by the Mivos String Quartet, and, for the first time it seemed that Zola Jesus was sharing the stage with instrumentation able to capture the power of her music. Her previous stagemates–with synths and live and electronic drums–were competent but never fully satisfied. But the strings, expertly arranged by the legendary JG Thirlwell, swelled through the building, bouncing off of Nika’s voice and back under the pulsing electronic drums holding the movement together. Projected behind the band were beautiful smoke-and-liquid visuals perfectly capturing the fluid interplay of voice and string.

The star of the show is Zola Jesus; or more accurately, her voice. That voice. And in my experience, it has never sounded as controlled as it did tonight. Powerful, delicate, elegant and charming, Zola Jesus delivered what her many fans came for, an operatic voice unmatched by her contemporaries in the dark music scenes she runs in.

Expectations were high for this show. Zola Jesus, JG Thirlwell, and the Mivos Quartet delivered. The effort put into this evening by many incredibly talented people culminated in a decidedly polished performance.

I don’t know if Zola Jesus will play with this arrangement again–and I hope she does–but if this performance is any indication of where she is headed, we can expect to see a Zola Jesus emerging as above all confident.

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