Saturday, July 09, 2011

#MIF11: Bjork's Biophilia

So this turned out to be one of those general admission, crick in the neck gigs where you really need to get their early. Trouble was, I didn't, and as a result I stood in the back of a crowd of tall men catching glimpses of Bjork between heads. My own fault. It was a proscenium gig in a big old warehouse, so I don't know what I was expecting. Never mind. It is a mark of how good this performance was that I didn't really even care that I couldn't see much of Bjork. This is because the projections were a whole show in themselves, and because there was so much happening with the music that not being able to see was kind of sensory blessing ( a theory I'm looking to test further at Amadou et Mariam next week). I didn't get to see any of those instruments she famously made herself for these gigs. But I did get to see her costume, a ruffley blue number topped by a big red afro wig with what appeared to be a chinstrap. Must have been devilishly hot.

On first listen the new music was wonderful, with a crystalline, fractured beauty to it. I think her new songs were about things like DNA, cosmology, the origin of life, and viruses, but I'm not quite sure; parsing her lyrics live is a challenge. Nobody sounds like Bjork, her voice can transform itself from a small, feline, warm creature to an avenging banshee howl in a few heartbeats.

The Icelandic women's choir, Graduale Nobili, provided an incredible texture to proceedings, like the layers of sound created through overdubbing in production but done live. I've never heard an Icelandic choir before so I don't have much to compare it to, but their sound had a stark, Eastern European dissonance to it. The choreography added a nice element to the show. Sometimes they jammed on their own, swinging loopily in their glittery choir robes, other times they loomed over Bjork like angry maenads. After seeing them perform after the show in Albert Square, I'd definitely be up for seeing the choir on their own (they're playing at St. Phillip's on July 14.)

The performance must have taken a lot out of Bjork. It was clear she threw every ounce of herself into it. And it's an intense experience for the audience too, taking all that in. So it was a great decision to end it with a raved-up version of Declare Independence, in which audience and performers joined in for a joyous jam, a needed release of energy after all that intensity. We all left smiling.

Image from Bjork Spain

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