Gig review: Zola Jesus at Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds

Zola Jesus at Belgrave Music Hall. Picture: Gary Brightbart
Zola Jesus at Belgrave Music Hall. Picture: Gary Brightbart
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Anyone who’s attending this gig on the strength of Zola Jesus’ recent appearance on Jools Holland is in for a surprise.

The Russian-American’s performance of ‘Dangerous Days’ was surprisingly restrained, with her operatically trained vocals taming the track into a hyper-ballad that supports her claims to have studied Rihanna’s streamlined pop.

Taken from her fifth album, Taiga, it’s nonetheless atypical of a sound that combines gothic, industrial, classical and experimental rock. These elements have recently been catalysed into what’s being called Nika Roza Danilova’s stab at pop music, which is marked by gently throbbing beats and euphorically brooding synths.

This sees her become a gothic Lady Gaga on the industrial minimalism of ‘Nail’ and Mute label mates Depeche Mode on the cinematic ‘Sea Talk’. These sounds, however, become more enriched when she takes her sights off sleek pop and pushes to the extremes.

Here it’s possible to find a ghostly chorus of pre-programmed vocals on the title track of her current album, which sees her stamping around like a theatrical Rumpelstiltskin, while ‘Dust’ has the kind of deep bass that could extract confessions from people who didn’t even know they’d committed a crime.

These contrasts are unobtrusively orchestrated by a three-piece band that seamlessly incorporates fuzzy trombone, hip-hop rhythms, and drums that alternate between popping air bubbles and struck metal sheets.

Despite this there’s never any doubt that Danilova’s soprano is the central instrument. It’s one she plays with a witchery that reflected in her stage set – a silvery origami pyramid sculpture – and when she locks eyes with audience members during a walk through on ‘Hollow’ she induces unease rather than intimacy.

It’s a starved quality that coalesces on the closing number ‘Night’, a gorgeously creepy track on which she promises “in the end of the night we’ll rest our bones” with all the sincerity of a pre-Halloween horror fest.

Gig date: October 30

Brian Fallon

Gig review: Brian Fallon at Leeds Beckett University