Eclecticism is the most striking feature of Björk’s musicality. An early academic training, as well as elements of punk, jazz, electronics and her native traditions, all feed into her songs, most of which she writes herself. This concert, for instance, opens with her spotlit in a chair, cranking an old music box before a symphony orchestra launches into a prelude of positively Wagnerian nobility.
Her backing group is a choir of 15 Inuit women, and, instead of the usual crass guitar and drums thumping, the rhythms are subtly synthesized by Matmos, a pair of San Franciscan hi-tech radicals. She also duets with an astounding North Canadian called Tagaq who hisses, wheezes, grunts and squeals.
Her own singing style is a combination of punk belting with a falsetto soprano extension. Its strangely childlike quality is complemented by her mesmerising dancing, which is more a hop and a skip around the primary school playground than maenadic disco gyration. Swathed in a black-feathered costume that looks half Swan Lake, half Moulin Rouge, she is lost in a world of her own and shows no sign of a return to Planet Earth.
It’s an act that could be an awful mish-mash of phoney pretensions and failed ambitions—rock music for art-school pseuds. But Björk clearly believes in it all passionately, and that sincerity gave the show integrity and focus, whether in relatively conventional hits from her early albums such as Human Behaviour and Possibly Maybe, or the haunting Pagan Poetry, with its clanging gamelan accompaniment, from her new release, Vespertine.
Other highlights of a relatively short but padding-free concert were a solo version of I Have Seen it All (originally sung as a duet with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke in the movie Dancer in the Dark) and the modal I am Strong in his Hands, which, with the help of Zeena Parkins’s superb harp-playing, ended up sounding like a Highland folk song.
At such moments, Björk makes Madonna look like a slick package of nothing, and also uncomfortably reminds one that so many of the singers who normally grace this stage simply don’t have a personality.