At Madison Square Garden, I eagerly waited for Billie Eilish's Happier Than Ever tour to begin. I was swept off my feet when Dora Jar stepped onto the stage with a unique, thrilling presence as an opening artist. Wearing distressed clothing, white eyeliner and double buns, she picked up her guitar and made magic.
She began the performance with the song "Opening," an introduction to her seven-song album, Digital Meadow. The resonant pitch of her voice and the fearless pounding of guitars and drums made time stop. With the first line, "Butterfly, at least I was in another life," she lifted both her arms and mimicked the movement of a butterfly's wings. A pounding beat commenced, while guitar strums and electronic howls came together harmoniously. The way she spoke, sang and moved through the stage from this first song deeply communicated her spontaneous aura.
Throughout the performance, the strength of Dora Jar's voice was incessant. Her sudden arm movements had a certain roughness to them, which matched the rapid changes in the arrangement of the songs. I found myself smiling when she began to introduce her band members. She sang playfully while strumming her guitar, almost improvising: "And there's Jesse. Jesse on the bass." She pointed to the bassist and the crowd cheered as he appeared on the big screen. "You're my boy," she sang as he began a short solo.
The change in mood in songs like "Garden" and "Lagoon" proved the extensive quality of her music. "This is a song about heartbreak. Everyone experiences it. It can come from many different reasons, but we take this pain and we find a way to make it into something beautiful," she stated before playing "Garden." Softer guitar strums gave way to the new personality her voice acquired as she sang, "Baby can I get attention / Give it to yourself." The quick pause between the two verses made it seem as if she was having a dialogue, and "Give it to yourself" acted as a responsive echo. She continued with a beautiful mellowness into "Lagoon," adding a tambourine and moving it fluidly for the chorus.
Lifting the energy of the audience, she switched to an electric guitar for "Multiply," one of her most intricate songs instrumentally; a blend between rock, electronic and folk. It started off with a soft groove and Nirvana-like arpeggio, then escalated to a heavy, nearly metallic beat. Its original psychedelic quality makes it difficult to describe in words–one must listen and see for themselves. As she sang, drawing us into the continuous beat, the layering of instruments seemed to multiply, pulling back on the verses and drawing in intensely for the final chorus.
After going home and comparing the tracks to the live performances of the songs, I noticed how the choir-like vocals, present at the start of “Opening,” were sung even more profoundly and with a sense of urgency on stage. Dora wasn't looking to achieve perfection, nor did she wish to mimic the recording of the songs. Instead, she strived to communicate her deep devotion to each melody, immersing the audience along with her. Before I knew it, I found myself listening to "Quiver" in the morning, and feeling more awake and ecstatic, a feeling that I rarely experience before starting the day.
In a 2021 interview with W Magazine by Maxine Wally, Dora talks about her writing process for "Garden." She stated, "I saw this dog looking up at this owner. For some reason, it clicked: that feeling of being looked down on. The lyrics that came to me at that moment were, 'It's like I'm your puppy love, playing dead obediently. And while you're up above, looking down on me, you wonder what I'm really thinking.'" This line, and "I fell off the bed in London / Straight to the floor for a mile," are what makes “Garden” so relatable for any experience of heartbreak.
The lyrics carry simplicity and metaphorical depth at once, especially these lines: "Have you ever looked inside a woman?" on the first chorus, and "Have you ever lived inside a demon?" on the second. To me, it captures the feeling of being misunderstood in a relationship through a woman's perspective, and holds biblical meaning. Eve, the female figure, is the one that draws Adam into sinning. The metaphor of living inside a demon can also represent living through the repercussions of heartbreak, as it is addressed as an evil force. Despite the angelic instrumentation and soft vocals, the song has an edge of darkness. So does "Lagoon," as she states, "I'm comfortably in pain," which became the title of her new EP.
As an artist, I find it difficult to showcase my work to other people. I've tried to ignore the fact that I’m a secretive person, because I feel that I have to show my work in a certain way, being true to both myself and whatever audience is before me. I've realized, now, that it is nearly impossible to satisfy others while still being true to my own vision.
When I look at an artist like Dora Jar, I feel relieved. She has a quality of spontaneity that is hard to achieve in our current day. Her performance is used as part of her creative process, to the point where the audience organically witnesses her art as it is growing. So when I sit down with a guitar or a sketchbook, or when I look through a camera lens, I will think of art as organic matter. Ironically, Dora Jar's digitalmeadow spoke to me in a surprisingly natural way, and I encourage every artist to design their own meadow, letting it grow endlessly with no concern of who might cross it.
Art by Carolina Lins