Versions, the latest album by Zola Jesus - otherwise known as Nika Danilova - is a difficult album to categorise. Despite being a collection of songs taken from previous records, it is not a greatest hits compilation. These orchestral versions of familiar songs are not simply reworked versions, but in many ways feel like completely different songs. Songs imbued with new meaning and emotive power. It is fitting then for the most recent tour, Zola Jesus has opted for a more intimate, stripped back performance that is wildly different from previous shows.

Notting Hill's Tabernacle theatre was the venue for the London leg of the tour and its small, square performance space provided a worthy setting for the music. Intimate, yet comfortable as no-one in the audience seemed to be without their own personal space. The decoration around the room was beautiful as well - particularly in the barrier between the seated areas at the edge and the main audience.



The show was bookended by two performances of 'Avalanche', the opening version was closer to the original recording featured on Conatus, whilst the encore performance was the slow rendition featured on Versions. It serves to highlight how these new compositions actually give the songs new meaning. 'Avalanche (Slow)' takes on a deep sadness that doesn't appear in the original. Its gradual string swells and Nika's vocals combine to make the song one of overwhelming regret for the passage of time and perhaps the things lost during that period. Just the line "and it all falls down" feels like a different statement to the one performed at the start of the show.

It's perhaps to the credit of these new compositions that they give the songs such intensity. It certainly felt like one of the most emotionally resonant shows I've ever been to. 'Night' started as a brooding ode to desire, before transforming into a triumphant statement of intent and power of will. 'Run Me Out' meanwhile had Zola Jesus performing as though trying to expel a demon, whilst delivering a vocal performance of such passion and intensity that at one point I think the entire audience was holding their breath.



The show reached its emotional peak during an extraordinary performance of 'Collapse'. Nika first walked across the stage, making eye contact with every person in the front row before exiting and walking out into the crowd. Given her diminutive stature, for several minutes it was though a disembodied voice trembled over the audience. When she sang "it hurts me to let you in," it felt as though she was speaking to each one of us. It was an incredibly intimate moment and it seemed as though she is trying to tell us how much of her energy and soul is put into her art for our enjoyment and understanding of her as a human being - as an emotional and spiritual being.

Unfortunately it was also during this moment that I noticed a strange disconnect between the audience and Zola Jesus. As she took her steps into the crowd I saw several smartphones being hastily whipped out of pockets and bags. What followed was a large proportion of the crowd pointing cold glass eyes in the direction of Nika, filming the crowd as they tried to grab an elusive shot of the performer amongst them, their attention fixed on tiny 4 or 5 inch screens. Or perhaps that was the point. The emotion I felt coming from Zola Jesus' music seemed to me to be real and honest, but perhaps for other it is still seen as an act, a story that might have come from a real place, but now it's been committed to record and performed to strangers it is just artifice.

Apart from that moment the audience's focus was entirely on Nika. They stood in rapturous silence as she performed each song, bursting into enthusiastic applause when each song came to an end - or at least when Nika finished singing. Some of the abrupt, false finishes within J. G. Thirlwell's compositions fooled the audience, which resulted in applause occasionally drowning out the final moments, when the string quartet really had chance to show the audience passages of such beauty and technical skill that meant they also deserved the attention afforded Nika.



This seemed to be something she was well aware of and as such Nika made a point of drawing attention to the supporting quartet and J. G. Thirlwell who conducted the musicians and also handled the few electronic beats that featured in the performance. Several times, particularly during instrumentals, Nika stepped to the side or rear of the stage so the light's focus fell on Thirlwell and the quartet.

As the show finished Nika and Thirlwell took centre stage. A rare, wry smile on Thirlwell's face showed just how special the evening's performance had been. Nika as well seemed touched by the warm, welcoming reception from the audience.

Many artists have tried to embrace classical music styles and orchestration within their music and there are many examples where they have failed. But last night Zola Jesus proved that it was possible to adapt music in a way that even when held up against the original, electronic heavy versions, the songs still sound fresh and modern. The strings sounded fantastic and Nika's voice, despite being affected by a cold, was a perfect match. Raw and cracked with emotion at times, or restrained, delicate and beautiful.