Monday, May 14, 2007

(Almost) Last Night's Show: Bjork

Posted By on Mon, May 14, 2007 at 10:54 AM

Saturday night's Bjork show didn't occur in St. Louis; it took place at Chicago's ornately decorated Auditorium Theatre, a venue that normally houses mostly jazz, ballet and dance performances (and the occasional Morrissey show). But the nearly 90-minute concert felt barely of this Earth, thanks to a combination of otherworldly instrumentation, transcendent vocal aerials and the mere presence of Bjork herself.

The Icelandic pixie began the show by crooning the moody ballad "Cover Me" from behind the curtain, as the venue remained dark and a Phantom of the Opera-esque organ accompanied her like a sinister soap-opera theme. Then as the curtains rose and brilliant fire-torches (which felt hot even in the balcony) exploded, she launched directly into "Earth Intruders," the brisk opening cut from the new Volta. The stage eye candy included blinding lights; several small video screens portraying close-ups on the hand movements of her percussionists; fluorescent sheaths worn by her Icelandic brass band (who resembled a gaggle of Teletubbies); and her own costume, a gold lamé, dress-like outfit that my show companion, Commiekay, noted looked like a garbage bag.

All matched the song's tribal rhythms and her cavewoman-like mincing stomps, although Bjork would be absolutely mesmerizing live even without these accoutrements -- mainly because she's the rare artist whose theatricality is so entirely natural and intrinsic to her performances, that she completely lacks self-consciousness and can just focus on squeezing every ounce of emotion she can into her music. Her voice -- operatic in a sense -- sounds almost exactly as it does on her studio albums, an impressive feat considering its range.

In fact, her vulnerable yells and siren croons caused sensory overload more than the flashy decorations. A brass-and-string-laden "All Is Full of Love" -- during which Bjork's vocal arias were breathtaking -- was intricately rendered and achingly beautiful, as life-affirming as a dove flying skyward. (I cried.) Vespertine's sparsely plucked "Pagan Poetry" and the sweeping "Aurora" too were heartbreakingly gorgeous, with her posse of singers joining her in sighing the wordless harmonies of the latter like a whooshing breath of resignation. The pounding bass drum backline on "Bachelorette" matched her frantic, gulping vocal acrobatics and the brass bleats punctuating the off-beats on a topsy-turvy electro-robotic "Army of Me" made the song feel straight out of a post-apocalyptic scene (as did Bjork's stop-start vamps in time to the beats).

The latter song foreshadowed the frenzied build-up to the end of the show. The shimmering, shower-of-glitter "Hyperballad" began slowly, much like it did on Post, but gradually sped up and picked up techno-fied speed and beats until it resembled the LFO Discosync mix of the song (perhaps unsurprising, seeing as how LFO's Mark Bell is part of her onstage band). A light show made of green lasers began then and continued into the digi-punk electro attack "Pluto," a song that proves that all of the so-called nu-rave bands learned everything from her. And like the other songs she played from Volta (the stuttering industrial-romp "Innocence" and the yearning ballad "Wanderlust"), "Declare Independence" completely destroyed its studio version, with jagged synth lines driving her messy dancing and unhinged exhortations to "Raise the flag! Higher! Higher!"

And just to prove that Bjork captivates an audience by doing just about anything: Even dainty curtsies after songs and squeaky exclamations of "Thank you!" the bulk of her stage banter, besides band introductions drew thunderous applause. Bjork.com has more recaps here.

For the best coverage of Bjork's short North American tour, check out Brooklynvegan, who attended several shows and even interviewed her.

--Annie Zaleski

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