Susanne Sundfør’s Mystical Performance at Chop Shop/1st Ward

Raphael Chatelain © 2017

On the coattails of the release of her new album, Music For People In Trouble (released Sept. 8, 2017, via Bella Union)Susanne Sundfør has embarked on her first U.S. tour. The Norwegian artist, known for her sweeping electronic landscapes and dark imagery, has taken a more subtle tone on this new album. The songs are subdued, largely acoustic, and filled with minstrel-esque melodies and guitar playing. However, it’s no less ethereal, and its stunning conclusion, “Mountaineers,” is proof of this. The first half of the song consists of former Czars singer, John Grant, performing a droning chant over a wavy synth. He’s joined then by Sundfør, singing in her familiar, mystical tone. She’s crafted a magical persona for herself – though after seeing her perform, I’m not so convinced it’s really manufactured.

For her first-ever show in Chicago, she graced the stage at Chop Shop‘s music venue, 1st Ward. The first mark of her atypical performing tendencies was the sign on the door, telling concert-goers that at artist request, phones and photography would not be allowed during the performance – hence my inability to include any concert photos in this article.

Her show was opened by LA-based musician Shey Baba. His gorgeous falsetto and quiet backtracks were an incredibly soothing beginning to an entire show that felt like being wrapped in a warm blanket. His subdued set ended with an Arcade Fire cover and one of his acoustic originals, and he welcomed Sundfør onstage.

Liam Warton

She appeared in an ankle length dusty pink dress, frilled and lacy, as though she’d just walked out of a photoshoot with a 1970s Joni Mitchell. She sat down at her keyboard and opened with the first track from her new album, “Mantra.” The song is an intimate, sing-songy poem, reminiscent of jazz ballads and another time altogether. This trend would continue throughout the show, as she performed both new and old songs, some rearranged to fit her new acoustic setting, and some sounding fresh out of an alien world. Another musician joined her onstage, alternating between accompanying her on piano, synthesizer, and woodwind instruments. Her otherworldly voice cascaded through the captivated crowd. She’s not afraid of experimentation with her voice, often making it almost ugly, but in the next breath letting out a crystal clear high note. Sundfør is hard to place. She seems at once a product of medieval music tropes, oddly reminiscent of the 1974 album Turn Of the Cards by Renaissance, and a being of the future. Her music is rooted both in current glossy production trends and classical sensibilities. She is capable of powerhouse vocals but holds herself like an opera singer onstage. She’s an artist full of contradictions, and this is often a quality that makes people special.

Sundfør closed her show with a sweet rendition of the Breakfast At Tiffany‘s classic, “Moon River.” Her true artistry is clear in everything she does, and this first US tour will hopefully lead to more. Check out her album and keep an eye out for brilliance yet to come.

Mariel Fechik
Mariel Fechik

Mariel Fechik is a musician, writer, and program coordinator for a Chicago nonprofit. She fronts the band Church Booty, sings backup for Chicago musician Emily Blue, and also recently started a duo project with Blue. Her poetry has appeared in various literary journals. She holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois, as well as an Illinois Professional Educators License.