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- Björk »
Special shows barely register when you’re in the position of being able to attend just about any gig you want for nothing; you can begin to take access for granted, ticket availability never a concern as you e-mail on the morning of, requesting a plus one that, most likely given your fiancée’s hectic post-grad degree schedule, will not be filled, leaving another in the cold because, y’know, you’re you. All music critics fall into this trap, eventually, if they stick it out and subscribe to the ‘who’ rather than ‘what’ motif. But tonight, tonight_ is_ special; this show was never going to be anything but, and the rabid scramble for any sort of way in that preceded this writer’s arrival only heightened personal senses that tonight Björk would deliver the set of 2008’s live calendar.
Ultimately the Icelandic singer – call her a pop maverick, an outer-spaced-out pixie, an avant-garde ambassador for the blurring of the line between the surreal and sublime, whatever – doesn’t deliver a flawless performance, a cascade of crowd-pleasers that will stick in the memory until the day these fans shuffle from this coil to wherever she presumably sources many an idea from. There’s no ‘Play Dead’, no ‘Unravel’; a number of personal favourites are shorn from an economically concise list that sees our centre-stage spotlight-trailed star wrap everything up well before home time, offering punters an opportunity for one beer more before Tube time.
But let us not focus on what there was not, for to do so is to fail to concentrate on the superlative delivery of what there is_. Which starts with ‘Earth Intruders’, out the traps with all the gleeful abandonment experienced attendees of Björk’s colourful appearances have come to expect. This is my first time, and captivation is immediate, the music washing up from the stage to rock against the balcony above my head. Forward, march, a must. Craning a neck above the tallest man in the building who deems it necessary to keep his hat on indoors – if you’re reading this, I hope the next person to be stuck behind you sticks their boot in, if you get me – straining eyes can make out Mark Bell fidgeting with electronic boxes of magical mischief, ‘Hunter’ the aural result of his playful tinkering. The song, from 1997’s high-watermark _Homogenic LP, fills this room as if it were a telephone box, enveloping all with its warm pulsations.
Guest spots, two in quick succession: first, Toumani Diabaté’s kora is brought on stage, followed by the man himself, for ‘Hope’; a diversion via ‘The Pleasure Is All Mine’ and Antony Hegarty strolls on from the wings, towering over the night’s headliner like Harry hanging with mother Henderson. Only with slightly less-believable hair and make-up, as is the norm at Björk shows. ‘Dull Flame Of Desire’ is followed immediately by a sumptuous rendering of Vespertine’s ‘Pagan Poetry’, but ‘Vertebrae By Vertebrae’ marks a dip in proceedings, attentions wandering as plastic cups, empty for some time now, look desperate for a refill.
Synapses are snapped back to the upright position when ‘Army Of Me’ triggers a barrage of laser fire, as previously seen during Björk’s ’07 Glastonbury slot; the venue shakes violently, as techno seeps from the margins of this aged material to inject it with startlingly new life. All the while our protagonist is spiralling, spinning, waving her arms, clawing her fingers, snaking her hips, screwing her face. Get close enough and you’re scared for her mental stability, until the knowledge that this is only a show settles and soothing safety placates the fight or flee reaction.
Only this isn’t only a show; it’s a staggering achievement of mostly engrossing visual wizardry – the lasers are followed by confetti cannons, and stage-level screens zoom in on Bell’s craftsmanship – and music that transcends fashion and genre by resolutely never subscribing to any movement or trend in the first place. ‘Bachelorette’ leads to ‘Wanderlust’, leads to ‘Hyperballad’, and eyes and ears all around get their fill, no room for the aforementioned omissions as much as they were demanded at the outset. The inevitable encore culminates, after a scintillating ‘Joga’, with the now-customary rant ‘n’ rave of ‘Declare Independence’, something of a comparative stinker on record (IMHO, et cetera) but absolutely blinding here. Very nearly – those returning beams flash precariously close to balcony-bound onlookers. Here, near the front, I’m entirely consumed, thoughts of friends lost in the melee forced out of the near-end equation by the sheer pleasure of something so very special.
Should Björk ever complete a work – an LP, or a show – categorised by those who bear witness to it as perfection, you’d figure she’d do her utmost to destroy it. The beauty of her music is that it doesn’t have universal appeal, and the diversity of her catalogue ensuring that even the firmest fan can find songs they’d rather not revisit. This isn’t music for neat boxes, pigeonholes preferred by consumers with grey matter disengaged. But performance smoothes these worry lines, breaks the boundaries, the blurring left for the studio; subsequently tonight registers like Richter Scale madness, more special than a year of sorry who? freebies rightly taken for granted.
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