I’m so focused in my music buying. Often, I am building up a collection of this or that artist in preparation of a REVO CD or BSOG, that I forget to broaden my horizons. When an act that I’ve read about who sounds interesting makes their way to my sleepy little town (which is still the cultural center of the western third of my state) my impetus is to attend. Shows can be few and far between in my near-rural locale, though in these days of a completely moribund music industry, it’s true that live performance is how the vast majority earn their crusts these days. As such, the concert calendar seems to be getting more active each year even as there have been many long, concert-free dry spells during my time in Western North Carolina.
The concert calendar is very much heating up this year. I am spending lots of scratch on concerts because you should partake while the partaking is good; that’s my motto. There’s nothing like the balm of live music, and when I spy an artist like Zola Jesus, whom I’ve not heard a note from, the thought is: just go! After all, it’s not as if The Quietus hasn’t been beating the drum for Ms. Danilova for what seems like years now. In fact, on the very day of this concert, they published another rave review of her latest album, “Okovi.” So once again on the 29th of September, I found myself in The Mothlight, which is turning into my number one gig destination this year.
I arrived at the club around 9:00 to see a merch table full of Zola Jesus tees and LPs for $15/per and CDs for…$10.00?! There was even a long sleeved T-shirt with sleeve printing… my personal ultimate tour shirt fetish… and all for just $15.00! Well now that’s more like it!! If this show was half as good as I thought it woud be, the latest album, “Okovi,” was probably coming home with me; low budget or not. I actually did sample a few seconds from it on iTunes to make the quick judgement to attend, so I was tilting in that direction.
An Index Of Mentals
The opener was a chap called John Wiese whom I’ve never heard of and I wondered how much longer I would have to wait to find out if he would be our friend. Not very. At 9:30 the show began. And I didn’t think Wiese was a friend as he proffered biological leaning noise loops of animal sounds and booming subsonics. Interesting? Not very.
Every so often the sound of a violin being torn apart took the sound in a different direction. This was the sort of stuff I really hated in the 90s. Sampler collage. Completely unmusical.
After about 20 minutes it began to sound like a beehive between my ears before it abruptly shifted to something equally unmusical, albeit shot through with chopped media sound bites. Tedium. I wonder how this was intended to make me feel. Was I supposed to be cowed? Frightened by the inhuman drone of it all? Next to the demon who inhabits the White House this was a masturbatory wank off of cosmic proportions. Hell, 45 makes early Cab Volt seem like bubblegum pop comparatively speaking. This is less than nothing and a minor irritant in the current zeitgeist.
After 25 minutes recognizable chords occurred to two or three shouts of recognition from the audience. Notes were being played and there seemed to be a recognizable tempo under it all. But was it too late to make me care? Yes. It ended 30 minutes later to a guy in the audience who said “is that it?”
Zola Jesus Saves The Evening
10:20. Salvation. Zola Jesus hit the stage with an unknown violinist at stage right and Alex DeGroot at stage left on guitar. The mix was fine with the violin and guitar providing melodic texture. Most of the synth and all of the drums were relegated to machine for a tight, three-piece stage unit. Ms. Danilova took center stage in the intimate club environs. The staging was dark, with shadowy projections keeping the performers visually subdued. Her vocals were strong and treated with plenty of reverb so when she spoke to the audience, it had the same impressive qualities.
Now that I was hearing Zola Jesus in depth, the first thing I was reminded of was the band Heavenly Bodies, with Caroline Seaman on the old C’est La Mort label from 1990. It was that sort of impressive widescreen sound. Cinematic, yet capable of intimacy as many of the songs that night demanded. Ms. Danilova had a better singing voice than Ms. Seaman. She had a strong timbre to match the emotional impact of her songs better. I had read about the new album and how it had songs of a very personal nature in matters of life and death for the artist, and I must say she transformed this dark stimulus into some beautiful songs.
When she spoke to the audience half way through the show, and she apologized for cutting the show short because she had just gotten over a bout of laryngitis and had to cancel the early dates of this tour, you could have knocked me over with a feather. She sounded quite strong this evening, but the last thing you want is a singer to strain their voice, so I was fine with that. We got a great hour long set that didn’t hurt for it, from my point of view.
One thing I appreciated was how the guitar of Mr. De Groot was playing through effects to render it almost entirely textural for the evening’s sound. Only once or twice did it seem like guitar tone reaching our ears. And speaking of ears, the club sound was excellent and clear. Not always a given as we see. As the show ended, I hit the merch table and bought a copy of “Okivi” and headed out into the night, not waiting to pop the CD into my car’s player. A lovely evening thanks to Zola Jesus venturing into our hamlet once again. They hd played at the Mountain Oasis Festival in ’13 but I had sat that one out.
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