Zola Jesus , a Wisconsin band, lead by Nika Roza Danilova kicked off the first show of their tour last night at The Crescent Ballroom. The show was opened by local Phoenix indie-pop artist Youceff and the Brooklyn duo Talk Normal. Many are disappointed that they may not have gotten tickets to see Flo and the Machine at Comerica in April. If that is the case, then the question is why didn’t you go see Zola Jesus? She fits within the gallery of female voices that are able to maneuver though many vocal ranges like Florence Welch or the vocal airiness of Casey Dienel of White Hinterland. In addition, Miss Danilova has a pixie-styled presence as she engages the stage on the wings of her voice. She kept a very enthusiastic rapport with the audience as she walked through the audience at one point where she performed Sea Talk. The atmosphere of the performance drew upon winter motifs that Miss Danilova was very much a character within a blue-frosted fairy tale set. Percussionist Alex DeGroot who has been with the band for two years said that, “She represents what may not be most apparent in most pop music, because she is very different.” He also noted that although Zola Jesus is a band, “It’s very similar situation as Nine Inch Nails, where Trent Reznor was the creative force of the band.” The same is true for Zola Jesus that is the alter-ego for Danilova. The band is touring east to Austin, New Orleans, and beyond to continue performing songs from their new album Conatus. (The Setlist: Avalanche, Hikikomori, Stridulum, Collapse, Sea Talk, In Your nature, Shivers, Seekir, Lick the Palm, Night, Ixode, Vessel, and they did an encore with Run Me Out and Poor Animal.)
Traveling with the band was a overwhelming surprise of Talk Normal lead by Sarah Register and Andrya Ambro who are from Brooklyn. When you go see a headliner, you know what the general mood and tone of the music is going to be. However, the surprises are usually the opener. In the case of Talk Normal, Zola Jesus chose an amazing opening duo. They are Patti Smith on steroids. Sarah plays on guitar and Anrya Ambro plays on drums with an onstage experimentation that has echos of Velvet Underground. Both musicians would weave their voices together with a driving “Tribal Pop” of Ambro’s primal drumming. They used feedback as a painter would use dripping spirals of paint that would encircle Ambro’s driving vocals that would carry yearning pitched notes that expressed an apocalyptic edge. Once Talk Normal finished their set, the audience wanted the band to continue performing. They are a magnificent addition to Zola Jesus’s tour. Ambro said, “That she wanted Talk Normal to continue to always be a surprise,” when audiences see them. They performed songs off of their albums Sugarland and Secret Cog. (Their set list: Sunshine, Baby Your Heart’s Too Big, XO, Lover, Lone General, Shot This Time, Bad Date.)
A show at the Crescent would not be the same without a local musician exhibiting what Phoenix can do. Youceff was first at the Crescent when Reptar was not able to open for Phantogram. . He stepped up to the plate and entertained the audience with a wonderful brand of indie-pop with a one man show. This was his second performance at The Crescent and he is peformed before Talk Normal Youceff describes his muic as, “A mix of bass lines and beats, coming together setting a landscape that expresses his voice and hopes it leads to a catharsis for the audience.” Youceff is going to Phoenix College and performs with the choir there. He is originally from Brussells, Belgium and came to Phoenix when he was fourteen years old. “The reason my mother chose Phoenix was because it was the cheapest ticket.” However, he found that when he and brother left Belgium, that Phoenix was surprisingly welcome and hospitable. Youceff does an amazing job channeling ambience in his music and churning it with the softness of his voice that is hypnotic to his audiences. You can find his album and download it at his website on Bandcamp for free.
The entire evening was a contrasting experience between the raging reds of Talk Normal to the misty blues of Zola Jesus. If you missed tickets to Flo and the Machine, do not despair, because you can have the same musical experience with Zola Jesus.