Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Zola Jesus, Cult of Youth @ Garrison, Toronto (April 20, 2011)

  Zola Jesus @ Garrison: photo by Michael Ligon

Update [May 2, 12:01 am]: Review now up.

Goth was a music subgenre that I could really never peg. The 80's had bands like The Cure, Bauhaus, and Siouxsie and The Banshees, bands all musically divergent from each other, that I associated with that youth subculture of black-clad wearing Goths, that scary-looking group of kids that hung out at the back of the cafeteria. But even back then I in fact had a certain affinity to these bands even though I didn't dress the part. And now fast forward to the present, my interest in listening to The Cure and Siouxsie and The Banshees has been rekindled, I've rediscovered bands like This Mortal Coil who I never listened to much to begin with, and I've found my musical tastes leaning towards artists like UK's new-goth described Esben and The Witch and even Toronto's own Austra whose stark operartic vocals provide a certain goth aura over her supple electro beats. It was a double shot of goth-inspired fun that took over the Garrison for a midweek show on April 20.

Brooklyn four-piece, Cult of Youth, opened to a relatively thinner crowd earlier in the evening. With a heavy hand on bass, strummed acoustic guitar, primal drumming, baritoned vocals and the addition of violin for just a little bit of etherealness, the band's music did present itself with a dark tone reminding me a bit of Nick Cave. On their song, the southern-gothic sounding "New West", the band were particularly appealing. It was a short set overall, but gave enough reason to pick up one of the band's releases at the well-stocked merch table, if one so choosed.

Zola Jesus, the stage name of Russian American singer/songwriter Roza Danilova, has played Toronto several times and she seems to have a particularly affinity for the comfy surroundings of the Garrison. However, after this most recent sent, she may have to reconsider larger venues. It was difficult for me to gage how popular she is in Toronto but by the time she hit the stage, the back room of the Garrison seemed to be at just about capacity. With little stage lighting, and flanked by two keyboardists, a member responsible for electronics and programming, and one drummer, the petite vocalist sauntered gently onto the stage barefooted, wearing white leggings and cloaked in a orange Gregorian-monk inspired hooded garment. It was an austere entrance and for much of the set she remained like that. It was particularly frustrating at times that there was never a proper spotlight on her, the only lighting being the video projector that seemed to only illuminate the bottom half of her body but never her face, except when she crouched down a few times. Otherwise, the lack of lighting did add to the vibe of her dark, scintillating synth pop.

Zola Jesus' tunes straddled between atmospheric, synth soundscapes, and danceable, beat-laden electro pop, all tunes carried along Nika's stark, dramatic vocals. As I'd sampled on some of Zola Jesus' live clips on YouTube, Nika's vocals can sometimes be lost in the reverb-laden mix, as was the case at times during this set, but as the night went on, the sound mix seemed to clear up a bit. While Nika's presence on stage was usually austere and cloacked in darkness and light, on tunes such as "Night", amped up for this live set with more beats, Nika was in dance mode. The lack of banter during the show and interaction with the crowd [except for that one time that Nika jumped onto the floor to sing amongst the crowd before climbing back onto the stage] didn't seem to matter much with the crowd who were enjoying every bit of the set. The crowd cheered for an encore which we got for one song and then we clamored for a second encore, the outcome which ended up with Nika coming back onto the stage just to tell the crowd thank you very much(without playing another song), an odd move that left a few befuddled. But other than that somewhat awkward conclusion, it was a satisfying night overall. And not one vampire amongst the crowd - at least that I know of.

Photos: Zola Jesus, Cult of Youth @ Garrison, Toronto (April 20, 2011)
MySpace: Cult of Youth
MySpace: Zola Jesus


  1. Ooh, I do wish I could've seen her. Travels were the immediate excuse, but age restrictions prevented it, anyways... as is the case with Thursday's show at Lee's Palace (Austra).

    I'd love to read a review of it, if you might.

  2. Advance tickets seem to be sold out. I've e-mailed the promoters to get on a media list, otherwise there's one more place I'll check for tickets. Last resort is to see if I can buy a ticket at the door. Bought the debut full-length on vinyl yesterday and it's terrific.