Nestled in the heart of Somers Town, St Pancras Old Church has a long and culturally rich history. Lying behind King's Cross station and hidden amidst blocks of flats, the composer Johann Christian Bach is buried in the graveyard, Charles Dickens depicted graverobbers in A Tale of Two Cities here and, more recently, the promotional photos for The White Album featured The Beatles in the church grounds. Against this backdrop, tonight's show from Susanne Sundfør seems curiously in keeping with the location's dramatic and diverse past. A new era of musical talent now frequents this atmospheric and beautiful venue and, in encapsulating a diversity and breadth of native and multicultural creativity, it remains a monument to the cultural excellence of London.
Tonight is a celebration of Norwegian music. Support comes from the wonderful Morten Myleburst. This is the first time Morten has played in London and his brand of delicate and vulnerable songs is perfectly suited to the church's clear acoustics. Myleburst's voice perfectly reflects the lovelorn sadness of his lyrics. And he proves to be an incredibly endearing and funny performer, instantly winning the hearts of the crowd with his awkward charm. Announcing a new song he says: "If I get this wrong and it sounds terrible, please pretend it is avant garde jazz." With his gentle finger-picked guitar and resigned sadness he manages to communicate the strange feeling of entering your mid-twenties and realising the difficulties of dealing with love and life don't get any easier with age and that no answers come with adulthood. But songs like these make it easier and, for now, he is an unknown gem that should be embraced.
When Susanne Sundfør arrives on stage, the evening instantly takes a more serious and atmospheric turn. Dimly lit and exchanging little interaction with the audience, she begins with Diamonds, the first song on recent album The Silicone Veil, and it is representative of the set as a whole. Eerie, ambient sounds evolve into pulsing synths and surprisingly hard drum machine beats layered over her endlessly exquisite vocals. From beneath pulverising looped electronica emerges complex and beautiful vocal lines which tensely explore lyrically dark verses and soar into epic choruses, situated somewhere between PJ Harvey at her most haunted, Bjork at her most visceral and Kate Bush at her most histrionic. Her two other band members flit between keyboards, autoharp and drum machines, creating a maelstrom of noise over which Sundfor pours her soul. It is an overwhelming and breathtaking experience.
In Norway, Sundfør is absolutely huge. Both of her last two albums have gone straight to number one, and a native newspaper has reported that young fans literally weep when she sings. In the UK, where despite touring with M83, she is still largely unknown, she brings with her the confidence and theatricality of a performer used to playing in venues that dwarf St Pancras Old Church. When she hits The Silicone Veil's eponymous - and best - track, she is largely unaccompanied and, standing tall in front of her keyboard, she delivers the song's vocal operatics with passion and ease. As the song descends into a percussive assault of dissonant sounds, the combination of brutal beats and such vocal virtuosity fills the room with an energy which is primal in its intensity and worthy of a star.
The set is not perfect. The sheer power of her musical ability sometimes overshadows the fragility to many of songs. Her largely impassive face also gives the impression of concentration rather than catharsis. And her commitment to unexpected codas is distracting rather than innovative. But there is much to love as well as admire. When Sundfør finds the right balance, as she does on songs such as White Foxes and When, the crushing electronics swirl hypnotically around her voice, elevating both to create something astonishing.
Sundfør returns for an encore of The Brothel, the title track from her penultimate album. It is the undoubted highlight of the night. Lyrically impenetrable she sings of gladiators, cheap hotels and echoes being buried alive, however, as the ominously sweet keyboards escalate into pulsing beats and urgent strings, she challenges us with "I'll do it all, I'll do whatever you say" before throwing her arms into the air and proclaiming "God has left us anyway". Stood in one of London's oldest churches, it's a gloriously defiant and thrilling declaration. By the door of the church, there is a quote from a Jeremy Clarke poem - "And I am here in a place beyond desire or fear". With an intensity that borders on the religious, Sundfor takes us to that place - steely eyed and unafraid. Before we know it we are thrust back into the whirl of a London evening but, like the great poets, writers and musicians who have frequented this church before her, Sundfor is able to transport us, however briefly, to a place above and beyond the concerns of our everyday lives.