Despite my unwavering love and adoration for Nika Roza Danilova (better known as Zola Jesus), February 18th, 2012 went down in history as one of the most miserable and aurally offensive concert experiences in recent memory. Zola would take to the stage at New York City’s Webster Hall in support of her latest album, Conatus. Unfortunately, any enjoyment to be gleaned from the majestic vocals of Zola Jesus was soured after having our eardrums viciously assaulted by opening band, Liturgy. How on earth a “Brooklyn-based, death metal” band was supposed to compliment the ambient, ethereal wave of Zola Jesus’ operatic voice is beyond me.
One concert-goer even took to the music blog, Brooklyn Vegan, to accurately describe the experience as thus: “Liturgy was one of the worst acts I’ve ever had the horrible displeasure of seeing. Samples of garbage trucks backing up and the same guitar riff over and over. Utter crap. Zola was awesome.”
Flash-forward to September 13th, 2013. Versions, Zola Jesus’ fourth LP, has been in record stores for almost three months and her tour with composer J.G. Thirlwell (a.k.a. Foetus) and a string quartet was just beginning. That night’s stop was the Foundation Theater at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA). We really had no idea how majestic of an evening was in store for us. The agonizing, auditory pain experienced at Webster Hall at the hands of Liturgy would all but be forgotten.
We arrived at the gallery early enough to guarantee front row seats for the show. The theater, with its pristine hardwood floors and floor length windows, was incredibly intimate despite the beautiful view out onto the Boston Harbor.
Zola, looking like a living Grecian statue, delivered a performance that would leave the crowd in awe. “Run Me Out” would see the petite singer travel up through the seated audience, vocals building into a powerful crescendo. Will would later joke that I appeared about ready to tackle her in a swooning frenzy when she came within arm’s length of where we sat.
As someone who has been to more live shows than I can recall, I can safely say that, at this point, it really takes something special to make a show memorable for years to come. Zola Jesus’ performance at the ICA was not just a concert but a living piece of art, thus making the venue a perfectly appropriate setting.