Visual art seems just as important to Zola Jesus as musical art, so when the artist legally named Nika Danilova first announced a show at D.C.’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden last year, the pairing made perfect sense. That show’s cancellation—a consequence of the 2013 government shutdown—turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Rescheduling meant that Zola Jesus’ performance last Friday night would be part of the Smithsonian museum’s 40th anniversary celebration.
Swapping out friend and collaborator JG Thirlwell’s strings for a pack of horn players and just enough electronics to remain true to form, Danilova and Co. glided skillfully through a set composed mostly of songs from her latest LP, Taiga. When she wasn’t gliding, Danilova strutted elegantly or thrashed spastically in front of a jagged, geometric set. But her performance didn’t sacrifice sound for aesthetics—it tied them together in a stunning marriage: that of Zola Jesus and the museum. It felt like a piece to be studied, and a one-night exhibition much too short.