Zola Jesus casts a beautifully dark spell on Ybor

Zola Jesus, the stage name of singer songwriter Nika Roza Danilova, took to the Crowbar stage in Ybor City on Feb. 6, proving why she’s been one of the most buzzed about acts of the past year.

Some may recognize her voice from her guest vocals on the song “Intro” off of M83’s latest acclaimed effort, the album “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming,” which may have yielded a few curious iTunes and YouTube searches for Jesus.

Last year saw the release of her third full-length studio album “Conatus.” The album mixes cold industrial beats, aggressive electronic synths and classical string touches. With Jesus’ operatic vocal style, the album has a mystical quality to it that translates well into her live show.

Backed up by drums, and electronic violin and synthesizer, Jesus took command of the audience with her booming, sorrowful vocals and firecracker-like stage presence.

Standing just above five feet and draped in white, Jesus took on a spritely form but unleashed a tidal wave of energy. In a trance, she curls herself into a ball and then explodes, violently thrashing about the stage in a feverish dance. At one point she even jumped into the crowd, dancing one-on-one with a few lucky audience members and weaving in and out of the towering onlookers before bursting back on the stage.

It’s rare to find an artist whose live act surpasses their studio-made sound. Even the best known artists are known to sound a little rougher for the wear on stage, but Jesus’ music is all the more powerful when it’s live and in the moment. Her voice pierces through the speakers, making everything in the room vibrate and enrapturing the audience in a veiled intimacy.

The stage is lit only by the flash of the audience’s cameras and a black light installation in the form of a cube, which Jesus would climb atop many times throughout her performance. The stark lighting created the perfect atmosphere, both cold and intimate, allowing the audience to loose themselves in the music.

The set list consisted mainly of tracks from “Conatus” with some from her previous album “Stridulum II” incorporated in. Performed live, the music takes on a whole new depth. The bumping baselines and vocal high notes of the album sound almost antiseptic when placed beside the live experience.

One of the major hits was the third song of the evening, “In Your Nature.” This was the song broke the ice between Jesus and audience, turning the crowd’s standard concert etiquette swaying into full on dancing and jumping.

When the opening chant of her latest and perhaps most recognizable single “Seekir” began, nearly half the audience gasped and cheered in recognition. Jesus achieved the trancelike state she achieves with every song noticeably quicker, only tightening the grasp she held on the crowd the whole night.

While chances are nil that you’ll ever hear her on local radio stations, her Ybor performance showed that she’s more than capable of pleasing a crowd. Audience members hungrily plead for an encore and she gladly obliged, cementing herself as one of the most distinctive acts to pass through Tampa in a while.