How did a Friday night in Montreal find me under the same roof as Zola Jesus, A Tribe Called Red and Angel Deeradorian? I was at the PHI Centre, an artist Mecca hidden in the labyrinth of narrow, cobbled Old Montreal streets. (A Tribe Called Red was recording in the music studio upstairs – The PHI Centre also boasts a cinema and art gallery).
With a staff of the friendliest, most accommodating music and art lovers, I was offered a tour of the centre, and made to feel unbelievably welcome. There was no snobbery parading around in acid wash jeans and contrived Velcro shoes. With a crowd that had no age demographic, there were also no vibes of pretentious irony: a common trap in many contemporary art venues.
Deeradorian boldly opened the night up with a set that was mind-blowing.
Now, she’s listed as a “solo-project,” but the girl was clearly in a 2-piece. So either give that other chick cred and call yourself a 2-piece, or ditch the woman and go solo – that’s my only suggestion, and maybe it’s a fruitless one. Maybe this collaboration was a one-time thing. However, saying that the solo-project-turned-two-piece was merely appreciated would be an understatement.
With heart-piercing First Nations-esque vocal screams and pounding layered war drums (you can thank her accomplice for the percussion, whoever she was) Angel Deeradorian was a mad scientist, using abstract mouth noises, backwards vocals and a pedal board that looked like an airplane landing strip. With seraphimic Catholic choir melodies, baroque reggae jams and minimal punk bass lines, Deeradorian was transcendent. And God bless the loop pedal.
Then: That Voice. Zola Jesus, at one point, required no microphone. She was able to silence the masses with the strength of this big, soulful emotional tidal wave of an instrument, her voice.
In a performance that made you realize who Lorde’s been trying to copy this whole time, Zola Jesus, while backed by a band of finely tuned male musicians playing synths and keys, drums and trombone, respectively, Zola Jesus is no producer/studio rat’s pet project.
Both songwriter and artist, she began the set by thrashing frantically, pacing the stage like a bird set loose in a flapping silk parachute dress, adorned in tribal silver, and howling her heart-aches for everyone to hear.
In aching songs of sadness and hunger, she still showcased both strength and vulnerability; she was proof that music heals you enough to dance it off.
The could-be pop star, though skirting around Katy Perry territory (if Katy Perry had depth, substance and style) showed that one can be a vocal powerhouse of catchy, beautiful melodies, without also being a vapid, overly-produced commercial loser.
Quipping that songs from her latest album Taiga, were mostly about endings (“But most of them are,” she said, meaning any song), she sang the words “No one can stop me now,” and hopped off the stage into the audience, becoming an omnipotent voice hovering over all of us. Zola Jesus, you are unstoppable.