“This is a song about my uncle trying to kill himself,” says Zola Jesus with candour and grace, before belting out a crescendo of notes poignant enough to lower every camera phone in unison for her fifth song Witness.
Zola Jesus’ latest album Okovi sees the Wisconsin singer return to her woodland roots after four industrial pop albums. This has had an effect on her appearance: flowing black hair covers her face as she creeps up from her knees to grab the microphone for the mystical intro of new song Veka. Pounding electronic percussion and strobe lights follow, as her piercing gaze entrances the crowd.
That crowd comprises curious progressive music enthusiasts and underground electronica fanatics. As they sip overpriced cans of trendy East London beer, there’s a sense that the attendees are the type of crowd that would gladly sit on the floor at an illegal rave, but you might also find a Royal Albert Hall membership card in their wallet too.
After the deep sadness of Witness, the energy in the room is regained with the ever so slightly more positive song Siphon, a continuation of the grieving process, this time ending on a high note as she sings, ‘We just want to save you/Pull you from those dark nights/We just want to show you there’s more to life.’
The setlist for this tour is clearly intended for new and old fans alike, as there’s plenty from the deep and complex Okovi, but there are also older tracks like Hikikomori from Conatus (2011) and the groovy tones of Dangerous Days from Taiga (2014).
As the audience begin to loosen up and move to the rhythm of the loud beats, Zola Jesus is a continual spectacle of goth shamanic dance moves and wild lunges across the stage. Electronic programmer Alex de Groot, providing some spirited rhythmic guitar, and Melbourne musician Louise Woodward on viola, plucking at the musical heartstrings, accompany her on stage.
As the rain taps on the venue’s glass roof panel, the alternating slow-paced ballads and catchy dance tunes create a chilled-out night with an arty rave twist. Finishing with some outstanding vocals on a haunting a cappella version of Skin, the show has an uplifting end, making the night a full circle of emotions.