Last updated on May 11th, 2018 at 04:08 pm
From a first glance, Zola Jesus is a very enigmatic presence. Her Facebook & Instagram are perpetually in black and white and muted colors. Often, when she is not on tour, you will see her living in a very peaceful yet solitary life on her land in Merrill, Wisconsin. I took notice of Zola Jesus in early 2012, around the time she got a brief feature on M83’s “Hurry Up We’re Dreaming.” Her otherworldly voice absolutely permeated the track and garnered praise from media outlets all over the world. When I heard it, I too had to figure out who it was and she’s been on my radar ever since. When the opportunity presented itself last week to cover her show, I had to go see her for myself.
Zola Jesus is currently on a joint tour with Alice Glass. Zola Jesus herself is touring on behalf of her most recent album Okovi, which was released to rave reviews by many outlets. It is a continuation of her unique dark pop style that is punctuated by her strong vocals. Okovi is a particularly dark and intimate album based on a depression that Nika Danilova (Zola Jesus) went through over the last few years. The subject matter touches on the fog of depression, suicide, serial killers, and fear. However, it is also the most intimate of her albums, because of how of how truly personal it is.
She has given multiple interviews on the meanings behind the album and each individual song. Okovi itself means “chain” in Russian, a clear analog to the darkest period of her life that she had just recently emerged and healed from. As she said in an NPR interview “At one point it occurred to me that your worth is earned from your ability to endure,” she says. “Your strength is built through suffering.”
The concert was much like the music itself. Dark. A vast majority of the set tossed aside the typical red, green and blue hues of concert lighting and instead opted for mild reds or the absences of light altogether. However, in their place, a projector painted jagged lines and fragmented patterns on the stage. At many points in the performance, you could see Danilova’s face emerge from dark only for the pattern to change in an instant. It was a lot like trying to look through the static of a television with poor reception. It definitely was a simple but great way to change the atmosphere of the Turf Club’s relatively small stage into the dark and gaping atmosphere that an album like Okovi required.
As for the music, Danilova was excellent. Her voice took front and center and was just as advertised. Her performance was very involved; she often thrashed about the stage and was often was sitting or lying on the ground at the end of certain parts of her performance.
She stuck mostly to songs from Okovi, playing songs like “Soak” and “Doma” but also drew out her more popular songs from previous albums like Dangerous Days and Skin. Talking to the audience was kept to a minimum, Danilova admitted she never was really that great when it came to talking to the crowd. However, when she did talk it definitely was not just idle chatter or generic “wow, Minneapolis is the best” talk. She mentioned the attempted suicide of a family member before her performance of “Witness” which was a song asking them to stay alive. When she did mention Minneapolis, it was a talk about it being her second home. She’s spent many days in the city, and lives just a few hours away living in Merrill, Wisconsin.
Danilova ended her set with the biggest track of Okovi, “Exhumed.” She ended up leaping off stage and performing a lot of it in the crowd before finishing her set on stage. After it was all said and done, she exited the stage quickly to cheers from the crowd and that was that. Zola Jesus’ performance was one of the more unique performances I have attended. It was a dark performance, but definitely heartfelt, and was most definitely a different crowd than I was used to. However, it also really resonated with some of the experiences I’ve had over my 25 years.