Last year, Zola Jesus returned to the scene with a new look, a new label, and new vastness that she's never shown off before. Taiga, her first LP on Mute, puts Nika on a new plane of existence, much more natural and much stronger than she's ever presented herself to be before. And with it, she has created the biggest, best live Zola Jesus experience to date. The Taiga tour shows off a new side for Nika, not only in the music it uses, but in the interactive experience and the presentation of her entire body of work. Truly, this is a more vibrant, more magnificent picture of the whole that we are ecstatic to see here for Zola Jesus. Together with an opening set from Deradoorian, Zola Jesus kicked off the 2015 leg of her Taiga tour with a bang. Plus, now we get to brag that she's a local.Deradoorian opened up tonight's festivities with an excellent set of harmonious vocal loops and psychedelic jams gave the evening a nice primer coat of darkness for Zola Jesus to build on later. You may recognize her name (Angel Deradoorian, actually) from her prior work in Dirty Projectors, or her more recent work as part of Slasher Flicks with Avey Tare. But somewhere between her solo debut on Lovepump in 2009 and the present, Deradoorian has carved a unique sound for herself that merits discussion. The colorful, ping-pong vocals of Dirty Projectors have remained, but their context has shifted massively. Deradoorian uses looping to create bass-heavy, gothic textures that fall somewhere between 70s cult horror movie soundtracks and the psychedelic folk work of Linda Perhacs and the like. It's all super cool stuff. Angel's voice was flawless throughout the night, bouncing off the walls and reverberating into infinity in totally hypnotic senses - altogether a wonderful opening set that we hope to hear more of once her full length record is done.
If you remember any of your earth science classes from high school, you might recall the taiga being the largest biosphere in the world, covering much of Russia, Alaska, and Canada in lush, rugged greenery that blooms in the summer and gets colder than cold in the winter. While the taiga is beautiful, it is deadly. The lushness in a picture covers up a treacherous, foreboding road hazard should you contend with it for your survival. In that, I don't think that Zola Jesus could have picked a more appropriate album title and theme for her latest project, both on the record and in the live setting. In the still and the quiet, Nika Roza Danilova is a cold beauty, haunting your dreams like a frozen angel, arms spread wide holding the weight of the world on her wings. But in the living moment, with hot blood flowing through her veins, Zola Jesus the polar opposite of frozen - she is ravenous and ferocious in every respect.
This truth couldn't have been more evident with the Taiga show opener. The album's atmospheric introduction faded into perspective as the band entered with Nika front and center facing a microphone stand. Seattle has seen her here before - a perfect statue holding fast to an unwavering position of power. But as the vocal intro exploded into the song's drum n bass-esque instrumental blast, Nika backed away from the microphone and thrashed to and fro across the stage, a blur of hair and gritted teeth moving at breakneck speed. A far cry from the pale angel who sang the sunset at Sasquatch 2012, here, Nika was a dark fury, embodying the vibrant energy of her new record in full form. This is Zola Jesus 2.0 and we have zero complaints.
The live setup for the Taiga couldn't be more perfect. While the majority of the synthetic textures are handled by a single keyboard setup, the primary players are alive and furious: the drums and the brass. In the center break of "Lawless", I could have sworn that snare was a gunshot, perfectly slicing the air between Nika's flawless vocal lines with blistering intensity. Seriously, that dude must need fresh drum heads for every show, because I've never seen anyone hit a snare that hard in my life - I winced for the drum. Elsewhere, the deep bass hits of the record were replaced by animalistic toms on stage, giving a tribal feel to the whole thing. On "Hunger", live trombone shook the building like a Christopher Nolan movie soundtrack. It was almost a competition between Nika and the trombone to see who could outdo the other. This went even further on tracks like "Ego" and "Nail" where the thick textures of the record were replaced with a single, furious blast from the horn, creating an even more stark and confrontational juxtaposition between Nika and the struggles that she's documented in these tracks. But in the end, between this trifecta of brutal elements, the Taiga live rendition had the perfect balance of beauty, bravery, and bloodlust.
Elsewhere, Zola stole the spotlight from her on-stage with ease. An almost entirely a cappella rendition of "Nail" shook the audience to a standstill. "Go (Blank Sea)" was a soaring wonder that could have put goosebumps down your spine from a mile away. And of course, "Dangerous Days" was the explosive pop wonder that it deserves to be, with the front rows dancing along and everyone in the house singing at full volume.
A handful of older favorites made their way into the set elsewhere - "Night", "Sea Talk", "Skin", and "Vessel", all fantastic numbers, gave the long time fans a chance to sing their long-time favorites at full volume. But by the time the encore rolled around, it felt like a true encore - extra icing on a cake already perfectly satisfying without it. With Taiga, Nika has evolved into a whole new beast, taking on larger questions, a wider horizon, and a braver set of circumstances to explore in a new chapter. These small returns to the past feel are a deserving tribute to phenomenal pieces of work, but Nika is far from finished with her exploration past the horizon. On Taiga, the night of Zola Jesus past turned to a blinding daylight to show a more vivid, vibrant picture of Nika's repertoire. What's next? Only she knows.
Taiga is out now on Mute Records.
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