A sunless evening awaited the audience at the South Street Seaport last Friday, as the city's sweltering heat wave gave way to a cooler respite. The evening began with an brief appearance from Yellowfever, who were unable to perform last week, before giving way to the scheduled performers.
The opener, Zola Jesus, is Nika Roza Danilova, who had recolored her previously raven locks to a platinum blonde. Along with her sunglasses, which were unnecessary in the weather, her appearance alluded to Lady Gaga, who was parading through the city the same week. But the similarities were merely visual, as Danilova, accompanied by a guitarist, played a set that was only vaguely tied to pop music.
Although her voice has the power of a diva, Danilova channels it into a wail, underpinned by a drum machine clank and a mechanical drone. The music doesn't float as much as it envelops, blasting forth like a witch's fire. But the density of the sound, and the mostly lethargic pace made for a difficult set.
Fittingly, the first song that the DJ played after the set was by the Cocteau Twins, a band with a shoegaze sheen that Zola Jesus suggests, but doesn't entirely reach.
Bear in Heaven was an altogether different beast. Singer Jon Philpot's friendly banter and high-pitched voice were affable starting points, and the crowd was visibly more enthused. Philpot mostly set up behind a synthesizer, blasting oscillating lines above the percussive thunk of his bandmates, melding electronic textures with a rock skeleton. Reciprocating abstract lyrics with a danceable beat, the band played a propulsive, but unpredictable set. As a closer, Philpot and company covered Norwegian producer Lindstrøm and singer Christabelle's "Lovesick," turning the restrained space disco track into something more frantic and desperate.