Recap: Reinventing Zola Jesus with J.G. Thirlwell and Mivos Quartet (photos, review, video)

Zola Jesus | Photo by John Vettese

While it seemed a stretch to take an electronic rock leading lady out of the club and into the art-house, last night Zola Jesus gave the impression that she’s more comfortable in a theatrical setting. Backed by New York’s Mivos Quartet, as well as experimental music trailblazer J.G. Thirlwell – who conducted the proceedings with a metronomic arm from behind a MacBook – Zola Jesus’ set at International House was a haunting chamber pop performance as heard on her new album, Versions.

The record was made in collaboration with Thirlwell and Mivos, and it spins a selection of industrial-inspired dance songs from the Zola Jesus catalog as delicate pieces set to strings and accentuating beats. For last night’s performance – the first on the group’s fall tour – the beats were all but stripped away. Mostly we heard the frontwoman’s intense vocal inflections backed by fervent playing by the quartet; Thirlwell, wearing headphones, simply kept time, acted as conductor in the orchestral sense for most of the set.

“Hikikomori” was a particularly stunning selection early on, and saw the start of Zola’s pantomime gestures and not-quite-dance-moves that went on to accentuate the songs throughout the show. The string strains of “Sea Talk” were also tremendous and uplifting, and her vocals soared on this one; she’s got the pipes of a pop singer, cloaked in a goth diva’s mystique. (Not unlike Kate Bush in that regard.) Without a packed club crowd to contend with – this group was politely nested in auditorium seating – Zola Jesus wandered offstage and onto the floor, huddling at the foot of the first row, staring piercingly into the audience’s eyes.

Thirlwell’s contribution expanded by the set’s close to involve the dispensing of beats – which sounded great on “Clay Bodies,” a song originally from Zola Jesus’ 2009 album The Spoils; though it does not appear on Versions, it was reworked tremendously by the ensemble for its first-ever live performance (watch a video below).

The performance was the fall season kickoff at International House, and was paired with a benefit art auction that runs til 3 p.m. today and preview of some of the programming in store – including a showcase of Federico Fellini’s films as well as a series of events themed around birds (including, naturally, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds). More information can be found at the International House website.


Watch Zola Jesus perform with strings at the Guggenheim Museum (playing International House on 9/12)

ZJImpossibleProjectsmall_zpsc0d45f84What happens when you take an experimental composer and an experimental electronic artist?  A beautiful combination of classical-tinged symphonic pop.  As her new album approaches, Nika Roza Danilova (better known by her stage name Zola Jesus) was filmed doing a special performance of “Avanlanche” off her last album, Conatus, at NYC’s Guggenheim Museum.  The song was rearranged by composer JG Thirlwell, an experimental composer with roots in the 80s / 90s industrial music scene (frontman of Foetus, remixer and collaborator of Ministry and Nine Inch Nails). Performed by string quartet, “Avalanche” takes on a new life.  The live performance is sparse, a bare-bones rendition of delicate strings accompanying Danilova’s voice.  This alternative style seems to hint at Zola Jesus’ direction on the new album, Versions, which will take her old records and look at them from a new, stripped-down perspective.  Versions comes out on August 20th, but in the meantime you can watch the video of her performance below.  The Zola / Thirwell tour makes a Philadelphia stop at the International House on September 12th. Information on the show can be found here, tickets are available here.


Zola Jesus announces US tour (playing Ibrahim Theater 9/12)

zolajesus_credit_angel_ceballosNika Danilova, perhaps more commonly known as Zola Jesus, always seems to have something interesting up her sleeve. This time around, she’s releasing a collection of previously recorded/released material transformed into classical string arrangements, called Versions. The album will be out later next month, and in support of the unique new LP, she, accompanied by producer JG Thirlwell, and the Mivos Quartet, will set out on a short string of US tour dates, kicking off early in the fall. The tour gets started at Philly’s own Ibrahim Theater on September 12th. Tickets are on sale now, and more info can be found here. Check out the new version of the previously released tune “Avalanche”, below.


Weekend Picks: Zola Jesus at Union Transfer, Scud Mountain Boys at Johnny Brenda’s, “Portlandia: The Tour” at The Troc

Photo by Angel Ceballos

Zola Jesus (Nika Roza Danilova) has her fair share of musical talents, but her voice—the result of years’ worth of operatic training—is easily her greatest asset. It’s led to her unique sound and her success, including her most recent album Conastus. Earlier this month, Danilova lent her vocals to Orbital for a track on the British electronic duo’s new album Wonky. Danilova, who’s never been one to shy away from the dark, brings her gothic edge to “New France,” wailing in a way only one with voice training can. Orbital plays Danilova’s rich voice over electronic beats to create an echoing effect. If “New France” and the success Danilova’s had on her individual work are any indication, maybe more artists should be trying to feature Zola Jesus’s opera-trained voice. Zola Jesus performs with Talk Normal and Meg Baird at Union Transfer this Friday at 8 pm. Tickets to the all-ages show are $13. —Nicole Soll

Also Playing: The Lindsey Buckingham Appreciation Society + Pete Donnelly at Johnny Brenda’s (8:00 p.m., 21+, $10); Less Than Jake + Plow United, Samiam, Flatfoot 56 at The Trocadero (7 p.m., all ages, $18–$20); Suzie Brown + Barnaby Bright, Brittany Ann at Milkboy Philly (9:30 p.m., 21+, $12); Tea Leaf Green + Ha Ha Tonka at World Cafe Live (8 p.m., all ages, $19-$29)

Fifteen years is a long time for a hiatus, but the Scud Mountain Boys refuse to let time steal their passion for performing. The band’s alternative-rock style is laced with some country-sounding riffs and farm-raised lyrics in songs such as “Silo,” but the southern influence is not overwhelming. The group disbanded after their main songwriter, Joe Pernice, left to pursue his other, more successful band, The Pernice Brothers. Regardless, it will be interesting for long-time fans and concert-goers to see if the Boys perform the way they were once known for: sitting around a table as if they were home. Scud Mountain Boys perform with John Brodeur at Johnny Brenda’s at 9:30 p.m.; tickets to the 21+ show are $15-$17. —Lisa Henderson

Also Playing: Black Thought’s GrassROOTS Charity Party featuring Black Thought + Questlove, Money Making Jam Boys, Nikki Jean at Sigma Sound Studios (8 p.m., $30–$40); Joe Louis Walker at Warmdaddy’s (7:30 p.m and 10 p.m., 21+, $20); WXPN Welcomes the Northern Liberties Winter Music Fest featuring The Extraordinaires + Dangerous Ponies, Conversations With Enemies, Arrah And The Ferns, Break It Up, City Rain at The Fire (7 p.m., 21+, $10); George Clinton And Parliament Funkadelic at Keswick Theatre (8 p.m., all ages, $29–$45)

For the cast of the IFC television show Portlandia, it only takes two to replicate an entirely separate world that exists right here in the states. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s senseless characters are clearly modeled after people the pair has chanced upon in the Pacific Northwest. But how well does that world translate to the stage? This live adaptation could be hit or miss, as both seasons of Portlandia were filmed on-site in Portland, which essentially casts the city itself acts as a third character. If on stage these two can pull off what they do on set, it’s likely this won’t be our last chance to see them in action. Portlandia: The Tour begins at 8 p.m. & 10:30 p.m. at The Trocadero; tickets to the early show are SOLD OUT, tickets to the later show are $30. —Lisa Henderson

Also Playing: William Fitzsimmons + Denison Witmer at World Cafe Live (7:30 p.m., all ages, $20–$30); Thick Shakes + The World At Large at The Level Room (8 p.m., 21+, $6)


Video: Watch Psychic Teens (opening for Zola Jesus tonight at FUC) perform in Kung Fu Necktie’s basement

The folks over at Bands In The Backyard have just posted a video of Psychic Teens performing in the basement of Kung Fu Necktie back in late September. You can watch the video below.

Each month, BITBY posts a new video featuring interviews and performances by up-and-coming bands. Previous episodes have featured Faux Slang and Streetwalkers. (Tomorrow night at 8 p.m. at Little Bar, the series will premiere its third episode, featuring Arc In Round; the screening will include live performances by Ages, Renderers, Sore Eros, and Not Fur Longs.) The Psychic Teens video is part of BITBY’s “bkstg” series, which features one-camera shoots of bands performing stripped-down versions of their songs at local venues prior to playing on stage. Both Ages and Not Fur Longs have also recorded BITBY bkstg sessions, which you can watch here and here, respectively.

Psychic Teens opens for Zola Jesus and Xanopticon tonight at 8 p.m. at The First Unitarian Church; tickets to the all-ages event are $13.


Tonight’s Concert Pick: Zola Jesus and Psychic Teens at First Unitarian Church

Photo by Angel Ceballos

With an alias like Zola Jesus, it is apparent that Nika Roza Danilova has no problem ruffling a few feathers. The atheist Russian-American singer has said, “I believe in not avoiding things you’re afraid of. Especially really dark things.” Dark is an understatement for Danilova’s music, which is downright gothic and occasionally sinister. With distant, menacing vocals suspended over an array of electronic arrangements, her songs evoke the isolated hunting environment of Danilova’s rural Wisconsin upbringing. Her latest album, Conatus (released in the U.S. earlier this month), is more upbeat and accessible than her previous work, but does not shy away from the supernatural obscurity she is known for. Instead, Danilova continues to popularize and deface darkness for her listeners by embracing every angle of her distinctive sound. Zola Jesus will be performing with Xanopticon and Psychic Teens Thursday, October 20th at 8 pm at The First Unitarian Church; tickets to the all ages event are $13. —Caitlyn Grabenstein

Opening act Psychic Teens was just in the WXPN studios last night recording a Key Studio Session which we’ll release later this month. The local trio will celebrate the release of its debut LP, TEEN, on November 10th. You can listen to the LP below; you can order a digital copy for $5 via Bandcamp, or pre-order the LP (on white or black vinyl) for $15 (including digital download) via Golden Voyage Records.


Listen to Conatus, the new album by Zola Jesus (performing Oct. 20th at First Unitarian Church)

Photo by Angel Ceballos

From NPR Music:

Conatus finds Nika Danilova, a.k.a. Zola Jesus, pushing the boundaries of her previous work to create an album filled with hauntingly beautiful songs. It also shows her taking a giant leap forward in production, with big arrangements in songs both fierce and fragile — and, for the first time, live string instruments.

As before, Danilova’s operatic vocals remain front and center. Her classically trained voice is commanding, rich and silky. Each song overflows with emotion: dark and moody, yet buoyant. As dark as they may seem, the songs have the capacity to induce comfort, even jubilation.

You can read NPR’s full write-up and listen to the album in its entirety here. Zola Jesus performs at 8 p.m. Thursday, October 20th, at First Unitarian Church; tickets to the all-ages show are $13. 


Just Announced: Zola Jesus to perform at First Unitarian Church on Oct. 20th

Following a strong breakout year in 2010, lo-fi goth chanteuse Zola Jesus will be hitting the road this October in support of her new full-length album, Conatus (due October 4 via Sacred Bones Records). According to Zola Jesus’ publicist, the tour includes a stop at First Unitarian Church on October 20th (the show has yet to be posted to the R5 Productions website). Below, can listen to “Vessel,” the first single off the upcoming album.


Tonight’s Concert Picks: Zola Jesus at Johnny Brenda’s + Low, Norwegian Arms, Grass Widow

As far as breakout years go, Zola Jesus (Nika Roza Danilova) had a pretty good 2010. The six-song Stridulum EP (released on Brooklyn’s Sacred Bones Records in March) was extended into a nine-song full length, Stridulum II, and released on the German label Souterrain Transmissions in August; a second EP, Valusia (also on Sacred Bones), was then released in October. (And, between all of that, Danilova found the time to record a split EP with LA Vampires, released by Not Not Fun.) All three of the lo-fi goth chanteuse’s 2010 records managed to garner a respectable amount of accolades, delivering on the promise of her previous work—which began with a couple of singles in 2008 and a full length, The Spoils, in 2009. It might not be the opera career Danilova originally envisioned for herself when she first became enamored with singing at the age of 7 (while growing up on a bleak, isolated, 100-acre stretch of wilderness in Madison, WI). But it’s certainly an impressive emergence for the experimental goth-pop artist, and one that has us looking forward to tonight’s show (as well as her next release). Zola Jesus performs with Naked On The Vague at 9 p.m. at Johnny Brenda’s; tickets to the 21+ show are $10-$12.

And, if you missed John Vettese’s Philly Local Phile from last Friday—which featured the new three-song Norwegian Arms EP, Trimming Of Hides, in its entirety—you can give it a listen here prior to tonight’s opening performance at Kung Fu Necktie. Norwegian Arms performs with Oh No Oh My, Arrah And The Ferns, and Cow Pals at 8 p.m. at Kung Fu Necktie; tickets to the 21+ show are $8.

Also playing: Low (touring in support of its recently released full-length album, C’Mon—which we mentioned here) + Stick And A Stone at First Unitarian Church (8 p.m., all ages, $15); Philadelphia’s Reading Rainbow headlines a lineup that also features Grass Widow (Kill Rock Stars) + Broken Water, Acid Kicks at Danger Danger Gallery (8:30 p.m., all ages, $5-$10)