Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Zola Jesus - Leeds Belgrave Music Hall - October 30th 2014

Tonight’s gig was at the now well established Leeds music venue Belgrave Music Hall. Headliner Zola Jesus was an act I was intrigued to see live having followed her career on and off over the years since 2010’s Stridulum II. I hadn’t actually heard any of the new album so I was going into the gig with no preconceived idea of what to expect.

First up was WIFE and initial comparisons lay somewhere between the beats of SBTRKT and the more ethereal soundscapes of London Grammar. As I nodded along to WIFE’s brand of IMD I couldn’t help but think of the one, often faltering aspect of this type of act when performing live, the live show itself.
While I can imagine WIFE going down well in the chill-out room of a warehouse rave I also can’t help but be slightly put off by watching a guy stand there twiddling knobs and punching buttons on a drum machine for 30 minutes. This type of act needs a good visual show to keep the crowd engaged, but this is often an element acquired by electronic artists much further down the line in their career. Nevertheless WIFE produces the goods sonically and is an act I would definitely keep my eye on for the future.

As the crowd eagerly moved forward in anticipation of the main act they certainly weren’t disappointed. Zola Jesus burst onto the stage with their openings track full of vigour and energy. As Nika (aka Zola Jesus) leaped and head banged around the stage it was impossible to not be drawn in by the power of her soaring vocals against the crashing beats of her live drummer. This energy continued on throughout the set with Nika giving her all through the highs and lows of the more upbeat songs as well as the slower ballad-esque numbers. It’s hard not to be impressed by this slight lady’s ability command a room with such a big voice. This was no more so apparent than with the semi Acappella Nail. It’s not just about Zola Jesus’s ability to sing, it’s also about the fact that these are damn good songs. 

Despite being unfamiliar with the new material on Taiga I was still drawn in to a set predominately made up of the new material. It’s obvious to see Zola Jesus has taken a step away from the more lo-fi ambient sounds of Conatus and Stridulum II with songs like Dangerous Days and Hunger but this only helped give the set life as I involuntarily bobbed along with these poppier tracks.

Leaving the Belgrave I was left with an eager anticipation to go home and check out the new album. For Nika and her band this was a mission accomplished as their live show clearly pleased die-hard fans while having the ability to entice new-comers into the world of Zola Jesus.

Words & Photos - Robin Chamberlain