The Voice

February 20th, 2012

Zola Jesus – Webster Hall – February 18, 2012

For all the arguments about which subcategory of Goth Zola Jesus may be a part of, the fact is it’s her instrumentation—whether it’s the discarded cheap electronics from her debut, The Spoils, or from her three-piece backing band, which includes a violin—that serves her voice. A voice that pursued classical opera training in rural Wisconsin at age 10 and battled crippling stage fright to record The Spoils at age 20. Isolated in the long country winter, the singer-songwriter combined her talent with the modest tools at her disposal to record the sparse, industrial-sounding album. It’s filled with remarkable vocals that build on female innovators like Diamanda Galás and Lydia Lunch, who combined their impressive vocal abilities with the pop sensibilities of their respective eras, something that remains unmatched in indie circles by their male counterparts.

Several albums later, that voice headlined historic Webster Hall on Saturday night. The venue has long been a part of the rave and house-music scene but it was strangely fitting for the pop experimentation on Zola’s latest, Conatus. With platinum blonde hair and draped in a sheer white full-length dress, her minimal sounds that had populated previous efforts were epically drawn out with pounding live beats and walls of pulsating, blinding LEDs. Live, the tracks changed from a personal morbid confession to a forum for publicly celebrating her melancholy romanticism. She became something like a bygone pop crooner or cabaret singer, capable of making the darkness universal and popularizing electronic avant-garde with the strength of her voice. But after the last song ended, she’d managed to transcend labels altogether. —Jason Dean