Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Bjork review for jfox

Stage before Bjork concert

A Melbourne Gastronome post with zero gastronomic content is most unorthodox, I know, but jfox has asked whether I can write up a review of Björk's concert which I attended last Wednesday night as part of the Sydney Festival. I'm happy to oblige, but seeing as this is the only blog I have I'm afraid the review will have to go here. I also never normally write about music and currently have a mind-crushing hangover which is spilling over into the afternoon, so please be tolerant.

And as to why I have no photos of the actual concert - the zero photos policy was very strictly enforced. I was happy to comply, because I'd read Björk's specific reasons as to why she prefers people not to take photos, and decided fair enough. In a nutshell:
"I don't want to be rude or anything, I understand they come to the show and they want to keep a memory, I appreciate that. But after two or three songs I just have to say "listen, if you want me to be here in the moment with you, then you've got to be too". It sounds weird but I really have to feel that we're doing it together."

I can and will, however, point you in the direction of some great photos taken by less scrupulous audience members... :)

The concert was on the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House under a full moon on a perfect warm evening. F and I arrived while there was still plenty of light and decided to perch on the Opera House steps rather than stand up the front (neither of us being particularly tall girls). We ended up bumping into a bunch of her friends, and hung out with them for the rest of the night. I've been in love with Björk since my first boyfriend gave me Debut to remind me of him while he was overseas... I was terribly excited, but also vaguely apprehensive - how could that amazing voice sustain itself for the length of a concert?

Opera House before Bjork concert

Opera House after Bjork concert

The actual performance started with the ten brass band members, wearing brightly coloured costumes with red flags bobbing up and down over their heads, marching onstage playing their instruments (Brennið Þið Vitar). Once they were in position and had finished playing the prelude, the primal stomping, stampeding intro to Earth Intruders boomed across the forecourt and the hairs on the back of every audience member's neck stood up. The feeling of electricity in the crowd - even back up on the steps - was incredible... when Björk pranced out onto the stage, excited butterflies in my stomach turned into crazed pterodactyls! I'm a little off the wall today, but Björk does that to me. It was a spectacular opening, both musically and visually, complete with huge billowing flames erupting on the sides of the stage during the chorus.

Straight after Earth Intruders came Hunter, which somehow was even more amazing for me than the former song. Now that I've seen it live I cannot get Hunter out of my head, and I'm loving it. On the train, in meetings with barristers, drinking my morning coffee... I keep hearing those haunting strings and cooing voices and beats and I get all fluttery inside.

The next songs were Unravel (really pretty), Jóga (during this song, green lasers starting beaming onto the sails of the Opera House), Who Is It (the brass band was also doubling as a choir) and The Pleasure Is All Mine.

As well as the brass and keyboards, the musicians accompanying Björk were using all manner of amazing electronic instruments, the most spectacular of which was the ReacTable. The ReacTable is comprised of a glowing circular surface and a series of blocks. When the blocks are moved they make a sound that reflects both the sonic nature of that particular block and the way in which it was moved. The person "playing" it can change everything from pitch to volume to duration of each sound simply by moving the block. You can watch a demo of how it works here. Created by some guys in Barcelona, there are only 5 of them in the world, and Björk is touring with one of them!

Apart from looking insanely cool, the brilliant thing about the ReacTable is the way is so strongly represents elements of electronic music in a visual way (in contrast to, say, Daft Punk - even though the Daft Punk pyramid was one of the most awesome visual spectacles I've EVER experienced, I couldn't shake the vague suspicion that whoever it was dressed in the robot outfits was simply pressing a 'start' and 'finish' button on a pre-recorded set - but with the ReacTable you can SEE the electronic music being created). Plus, the little blocks being used on the ReacTable looked a little like runes, which added to the whole Björk-primal-goddess thing. :)

The next song, Pagan Poetry, was another highlight - the singing by the (brass) choir was spooky good, and after hitting all of those huge loud notes (when she got to the soft "I love him, I love him" part of the song), Björk held us all in the palm of her tiny hand. This was followed by Desired Constellation and then Army Of Me, which was massive - every time there was one of those metallic 'clangs' just before the chorus, the whole stage would light up like a flash of lightning.

I Miss You was fantastic with such a big brass section (fun and boppy), and one of my other very favourite Björk songs, Bachelorette, was also so so special to hear live. By about this time I was just incredulous that her voice was holding out so well - she was singing all of those big long loud notes and tricky musical intervals in Bachelorette just as clearly and perfectly on pitch as she was at the start. As a singer myself whose voice starts to flag after six or so songs, I just don't know how she does it. Clearly, she's not human! (Well, seeing as she ended up cancelling her Sydney BDO appearance due to swollen vocal chords, and in some of the youtube videos of other concerts her poor voice sounds rather scratchy, maybe she is human after all... but either way, she was in magnificent voice at our concert!)

The last four songs before the encore were Cover Me (just her and the guy on the keyboard), Wanderlust, Hyperballad (one of the most popular of the night - at one point she smiled and held the mic up to the singing audience - which built up to a crazy dancing climax), then Pluto.

She wasn't overly chatty during the performance, but each time she'd say "Thunk you verrry much! We arre gretfool to be here" in that adorable Icelandic/North London accent, everyone in the audience would grin from ear to ear. For the first encore, Oceania, the brass choir came down to the front of the stage and formed a semicircle around her. It was an unsual arrangement of the song - almost like an oompah band. Lots of tuba.

But the final song of the night, Declare Independence, was the biggest of all. I'll admit to you that I don't much like listening to this track on cd, but live it was incredible. Everyone was going nuts dancing and jumping around to it, and - hilariously - when they were singing "raise your flag", "higher, higher", the brass choir members pulled off the little red flags that had been bobbing over them all night and started brandishing them furiously as high as they could reach! As the song neared its finish masses of confetti rained down from above the stage and - would you believe it - a whole lot of FIREWORKS started exploding above us, launched from Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. Afterwards us Melbournians jokingly sniffed that the fireworks, what with the Bridge and the Opera House right next to us, had been "very SYDNEY", but it was all heaps of fun, though we ended up ignoring the fireworks to focus on our last precious moments of Björk before she vanished in a puff of smoke.

In case you haven't been able to tell, I really loved the concert. :)

Swan dress at Bjork


Anonymous said...

Fantastic review little miss.

Bjork was the best thing I have ever seen in my entire life. I quite simply had a perfect music moment. The ReacTable is a sight to behold as well - I do believe our little Bjork is the only musician touring with it because it is so experimental.


P.S am jealous you got to here Oceania....

m xx

Cindy said...

I've long admired Bjork's incredible voice, and I'm pleased (and yes, somewhat jealous) that the live experience lived up to it. Thanks for the review. :-)

jfox said...

aw woooow and kooool, thanks heaps claire ;)
i really appreciate you taking the time to write this and for the pix links.

fantastic review, the performance sounds bloody amazing! the staging looks so spectacular - you had little red flags _and_ confetti _and_ fireworks! (i must confess, i did think |oh how sydney!| melb snob that i am ;p)

i love the idea of Earth Intruders announcing their set, would have loved to have seen the encore and the ReacTable sounds so curious.. like a retro/futuro musical defractor??!

many thanks again, i really enjoyed your write up. apologies for not responding sooner, serves me right for thesis writing and not procrastinating w food/craft/muzak blogs like i normally do ;)

long live bjork!

claire said...

Well well, if it isn't little miss mon. How was the cruise??

Thanks Cindy! :)

No worries Jfox, glad you liked the review! If you haven't yet watched the Reactable tutorial videos on youtube, do so - it'll give you a better idea of how they work. Good luck with the thesis!