“Do you respect wood?” asks one audience member to his partner, as they scramble to their seats in the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall of the Melbourne Recital Centre. The hall is wooden from the walls to the floor to the ceiling and seats –the better to accompany string and vocal performances, and to carry a much-appreciated Curb Your Enthusiasm reference.
As soon as the lights dimmed, the plywood panel walls appeared more like rocks lining the bottom of a cave. This effect was maximised once a spotlight fell from the at least thirty-metre high ceiling onto Melbourne string ensemble, the Penny Quartet. Almost camouflaged by her long black dress, Zola Jesus – the moniker of American singer/songwriter Nika Roza Danilova – drifted from the shadows to join them onstage.
Opening with Nail from 2014 album Taiga, the warmth of Danilova’s vocals built slowly until her cries of “set me free” near the end of the song came out like Danilova herself was burning. Much of her lyrics prompted this same imagery of being trapped, and while the dark surroundings of the stage almost emphasised this feeling, whether Danilova saw her voice as her only source of power or not, there was no denying it’s all encompassing and powerful regardless. The floating cubes projected onto the stage wall pulsing white, grey and red as Danilova’s vocals rose and fell.
Featuring string arrangements from Australian artists J.G Thirwell and Louise Woodward, Danilova took time in the middle of her performance to highlight their input into what she called, “The most special incarnation of my music.” An event like Melbourne Music Week, with its emphasis on atmosphere, proved to be the perfect platform for a Zola Jesus performance. The unforgettable show opened the audience up to limitless possibilities, with the impact of one voice given the ultimate care and space.
Words by Hannah Joyner
Image by Anna Madden
Highlight: How well the surroundings matched the performance.
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