26 mai 2003

Shepherd’s Bush Empire

Londres, Royaume Uni


With a greatest hits collection released last year, a handful of festival dates this summer and a much-talked-about live album still up her sleeve, it would be fair to wonder why Björk has gone to all this effort ? There is nothing new to promote as such, but as soon as her colourful, diminutive form appears in front of us, the fog of uncertainty lifts. As an almighty cheer explodes it all becomes clear, this is for her fans, and a truly devoted bunch we are too.
Elaborately dressed in pink from head to toe, Björk seems relaxed and at home. A full string section, complete with a multitude of harps, nestles on the stage but it is the Icelandic songstress that holds our attention. ‘Pagan Poetry’ gets the ball rolling and all breathy and beautiful “I love him, I love him” she chants in a mantra style. It’s not a predictable start perhaps but then this is no predictable lady. The set gently weaves and winds through most of her third and most polished album ‘Homogenic’ with the rousing strings and military style drums of ‘Hunter’, and a tantalising rendition of ‘Joga’, her exquisite voice, so impressively controlled, wins her an eager round of applause half way through.
The romantic ‘All Is Full Of Love’ drifts along next but is hampered by a lack of volume. This is a show that commands our full attention and without being able to hear every note glide and soar some magical atmosphere is lost. We soak up the shiny, skittering beats of ‘Heirloom’ and the Celtic influenced ‘Generous Palmstroke’ as best we can, trying not to be too disappointed and casting any sound irritation to one side
In fine experimental form Björk treats us to the industrial sounding ‘Where Is The Line’, like something from a futuristic Bollywood movie. Then the sparse, techno-inspired ‘Pluto’ thumps and grinds taking up the pace a bit and gets us dancing. Last but definitely not least the gorgeously infectious ‘Isobel’ is our final reward and it’s all the gratification we need. We tumble out into the street uplifted and very glad that she made the effort. Thanks Björk.

Ruth Mitchell - XFM

Icelandic songstress is simply breathtaking
Björk drifts across the cosmos, white yarn unravelling from a hole in her back. How Scandinavian of her.
She looks thirty feet long. She is thirty feet long : beamed up on the backdrop while her mini, real self cavorts below in a pink puffy ballgown and oversized remembrance poppy combo, matching eyeshadow smeared warpaint-like across her face. It’s hard to decide which of the two looks the most spectacular.
Business as usual for the celestial diva, then. With the help of harpist Zeena Parkins and San Franciscan sound sculptors Matmos, who’ve fashioned lithe, subtle beats from the sounds of cracking ice and shuffled cards, her Björkness is moving ever closer to her ultimate dream. A breathtaking fusion of tradition and progress, of electronica and steam, of classical beauty in a groundbreaking frame.
The best songs tonight are gloriously impossible to dance to. Old favourites like ‘Jóga’ and ‘Hunter’ swell with the orchestra, Björk’s magical voice pirouetting in mid air, while the new ‘Desired Constellation’ is light years away from the fashionability of her debut. As she sings on another rare song, “Nature is ancient
but surprises us all.” Even in such familiarly magnificent form, Björk in a heartbeat.

Ian Watson - NME

Björk to the future
Her dress sense is predictably quirky. It’s Björk’s sound that has moved, once again, way ahead of the pack.
Consistent innovation is a rare thing in music. Most cutting-edge artists make an impact, soak up the kudos like fuel then ride their sound around in circles, dodging copyists, until something previously unheard of arrives to reset the boundaries. Pushing the envelope, time and again, is a fiendishly difficult business, as Missy Elliott and Timbaland, and US urban pop producers The Neptunes are finding.
The ever-ingenious Björk has just shunted her music off into another new pasture. The handful of new songs she airs at the second of last week’s London shows combine breathtaking digital club textures, howling elemental forces, old world resonances and ever-elastic concepts of melody. Nothing new there,
seasoned Björk-watchers might conclude ; she has been doing precisely that ever since her first alien dancefloor pop hits ushered in the Nineties.
Tonight, however, Björk picks up the goalposts of what can be done with one voice, some violins and a bank of computers and heaves them—like some charmed Scandinavian caber-thrower—into somewhere
unfamiliar. The only landmarks are her voice—ticklish, bombastic and bereft by turns—and her dress sense. Her hair is up in diagonal be-ribboned corn rows. Her asymmetrical prom dress is a violent pink confection, culminating in an outsized flower at the shoulder and knee, while vines climb up her pink leggings. There is another vine painted on her arm, and her fairy-tale thong slippers glitter with diamanté.
If Björk ever actually loses her mind, we will never notice. She does get a little help reinventing the future. Her new sonic fixers—latest in a long line that has included Nellee Hooper, Graham Massey, Mark Bell, Tricky, Matthew Herbert and Talvin Singh—are San Francisco sound architects Drew Daniel and MC Schmidt, collectively known as Matmos, who contributed sounds to Vespertine, her last album. A clue as to why Björk sees them as kindred spirits lies in their sampling of
plastic surgery operations and crayfish to make rhythm tracks on their own work. Tonight they join an eight-piece string section, harpist Zeena Parkins and much-missed electronic muse Leila in filling out Björk’s agenda.
The Inuit choir used in her last live shows is gone but there is a chorus of sorts—Björk herself, sampled live and looped back by Matmos, creating a mounting Wall Of Björk that she throws her voice against on a new, untitled song. It’s an extraordinary trick, and the song itself is cumulative and grand.
‘Desired Constellation’ is even better, all-insistent electronics rubbing up against the kind of conversational lyric that anchors Björk’s technological leaps in human emotion. ‘How am I going to make it right ?’ she howls repeatedly. It’s hard to keep the hairs on your arms down, especially as this comes hot on the tail of ‘Hunter’, one of Björk’s most enduringly exquisite songs.
The visuals—by Lynn Fox—are stunning too : a constellation turns into an amniotic underwater scene where squid and seal-like creatures shoot around playfully, tentacles and tails shaped like human hands. (Later there will be a montage of scenes from Inuit life, scribbled over, the scribbles increasingly phallic ; later still, some very arty masturbation scenes). Then there’s ‘Where Is The Line’, a gale-force track that sounds a bit like an ancient Eastern European folk tune with its head stuck in a bass bin at a rave. Only
louder. A final novelty is the introduction to ‘You’ve Been Flirting Again’, delivered in Icelandic as part of the encore.
It’s not just the new songs that sound brave and bold. Björk’s back catalogue is fed through this filter of strings and machines, with much of her Homogenic album given a classical-futurist makeover. There are the arpeggios and digital dramas of ‘Joga’, her words recorded and looped again by Matmos as a coda. ‘All Is Full Of Love’ brings shimmering consolation. The even older ‘Hyperballad’—the closest thing to a hit tonight—is given new rumbles and beats. Throughout, Björk skips and swoops like a clockwork doll ; then she’s a manic conductor, acting out the beats with her arms. She doesn’t have much to say, apart from the usual thank-yous and curtsies. But she does receive gifts from the front rows with curiosity, quite a gesture from someone who was once sent a parcel-bomb by a nutter.
Most electrifying of all tonight is ‘Generous Palmstroke’, a B-side dating from Vespertine time. Spotlit, Zeena Parkins’s harp sounds parsed and almost Japanese, contrasting with Matmos’s skittering beats. Then the harp goes mad, Björk demands ‘Embrace me !’ and somewhere, above the din, a baby cries. It sounds like part of the sound design until you realise, yes, there really is a baby here tonight. It’s quite shocking at first—under-18s are generally unwelcome in such venues, let alone the under-threes. But then it’s very moving : how well this most raw of human cries fits Björk’s hyper-modern music.

Kitty Empire - The Observer

This is Planet Björk
One downside of Björk’s childlike aura—she hops around the stage like a tot buzzing on Sunny Delight— is that it prevents some critics from taking her seriously. Factor in the usual “nutty Icelander” stereotype, and it’s not hard to see why her music has sometimes been overshadowed by media caricature. Unfortunate, that, because Björk Guðmundsdóttir, now 37, has long been one of pop’s most gifted and innovative songwriters. Tonight’s gig at the Apollo, moreover, proves typical of a chanteuse for whom envelopepushing has become the norm.a
The DJ warm-up set does not augur well. Featuring ear-piercing animal shrieks, verbal abuse and other aural irritants on a par with a pneumatic drill, it’s booed and slow-handclapped when rare dips in volume allow. Some kind of Björk-sanctioned prank ? Perhaps. It also ensures that whatever comes next will be a welcome alternative.
Initially, at least, Björk’s set is a sharp sonic contrast. Joined by the San Franciscan electronica duo Matmos, the harpist Zeena Parkins and an Icelandic string octet, she begins with “Pagan Poetry”, the haunting stand-out track from 2001’s Vespertine album. A ballerina-like figure in a red puffball dress and pink tights, Björk takes her usual aerobic approach to singing. Pumping her arms and legs to propel her honeyed bark on the song’s outro section, she barely seems to require the microphone’s assistance.
“Desired Constellation” is the first of three songs from Björk’s forthcoming record, The Lake Album. “It’s tricky when you feel that someone has done something on your behalf,” she sings. The lyric’s syntax is recognisably Björkian, and its starting-point is typically intriguing. The sonic backdrop is a thrumming electronica groove, but there is also a video backdrop, the first of several Lynn Fox visuals commissioned to enliven tonight’s performance. This one features a distant galaxy and porpoise-like creatures with human hands for tails. Quite what it all means escapes me, but aesthetically it’s highly pleasing.
This is the opening date of a European tour, and there are a few minor hiccups. For example, the manually triggered beats in “Joga” (designed to evoke Iceland’s physical geography, they pay crunching homage to tectonic plates shifting) are out of time, and the string octet is sometimes lost in the mix. Björk herself is outstanding, though, her aura of other-ness and gung-ho enthusiasm holding our attention throughout. Other than, “Thanks”, she says little between songs. This being Eurovision night, however, she does ask whether anyone has heard the result.
For “Nameless”, the “psychedelic chamber-techno” artist Leila Arab arrives to effect a ghostly live remix of Björk’s vocal, before the set-closers “Where is the Line” and “Pluto” up the tempo and sonic intensity. The former melds a distorted flamenco-like vocal to a monster groove, while the latter is bolstered by the kind of flame-throwing pyrotechnics normally associated with the Seventies hard-rockers Kiss. Having enjoyed a little head-bang, Björk receives a deafening ovation. “Angleterre—douze points !” she shouts ; then the Sunny Delight kicks in again, and she’s gone.

James McNair - The Independent

It is, perhaps, hard to explain the great taste and artistic power of Björk when, as tonight, she appears onstage as a giant purple meringue dancing the hornpipe. Hopping onstage in this avant-garde ballerina kit, with red blotches by her eyes and black foliage painted down her arms, she appears to fit the stereotypes used by her detractors : pretentious, kooky, utterly absurd.
Not that Björk or her fans care, of course. Nowadays, the pressure of commercial success seems to have been lifted from her shoulders, and with it any need to rein in her eccentricities. So tonight’s show is an extravaganza of colour, beauty, noise and brilliant ideas that conform only to her own unique aesthetic code.
For the most part, it’s closer to high art than pop, incorporating performance art, chamber music and radical sound design : the band consists of genius electronica duo Matmos, harpist Zeena Parkins and a string octet.
But it’s also intensely human. So while Björk may initially look like a monument to unwearable fashion, the unquenchable life and spirit within her soon makes the alien accessible. ’Pagan Poetry’ begins and the music is stately, ornate, but soon there’s a great gushing warmth caused by Björk roaring, a capella, "I love him ! I love him !" over and over. One song in, and already there’s been an authentically heartstopping moment.
Absence of Inuit choir notwithstanding (how many times have I dreamed of writing that !), it initially seems as if the show will be a virtual reprise of her ’Vespertine’ performances. In fact, it’s radically different : only a couple of songs from that album turn up. Instead, the ’Vespertine’ idea - a sort of solemn classical fragility underpinned by volatile, glitchy rhythms - is extended to permeate rarely-visited corners of Björk’s back catalogue. So plenty of ’Homogenic’ gets a radical overhaul, and the screeching digital jungle that accompanies an encore of ’Isobel’ proves that, as her best ever collaborators, Matmos improve everything.
In fact, the brilliance, of Matmos’ skittish, squelching, curiously funky music means that, for once, the focus isn’t entirely on that extraordinary voice for a change. It’s their radicalism which seems to provide an impetus to the new songs, which reveal Björk heading further and more fearlessly into the leftfield than ever before. ’Desired Constellation’ is understated, a logical extension of ’Vespertine’.
But towards the end of the set - prefaced by a thumping microhouse version of ’It’s In Our Hands’, the music gets tougher and more extreme. A shadowy figure behind banks of machines proves to be Björk’s old accomplice - and fine solo artist - Leila, adding a massive new dimension to the sound. So something billed as ’Nameless’ on the setlist cuts violently between starkness and great rushes of musique concrete, while ’Where Is The Line’ pits the sort of smothered hip-hop and crackling noise usually found on Digital Hardcore records against a Schoenberg-esque string arrangement.
It’s astounding, and a timely reminder that Björk’s subversion of the mainstream has been a much longer and more profound project than that of Radiohead. If ’Vespertine’ suggested an introverted retreat, then the next Björk venture looks likely to hook up the prettiness to a compelling new abrasion. Lightweights should stick with their Goldfrapp albums : it may get brutal from here on in.

John Mulvey - Dotmusic.com}=}


01. Pagan Poetry
02. 5 Years
03. Hunter
04. Desired Constellation
05. Unravel
06. Jóga
07. All Is Full Of Love
08. Heirloom
09. Generous Palmstroke
10. Nature Is Ancient
11. Hyperballad
12. It’s In Our Hands
13. Nameless
14. An Echo, A Stain
15. Where Is The Line
16. Pluto
17. Scary
18. You’ve Been Flirting Again (Icelandic)
19. Isobel

sur scène

  • Icelandic String Octet
  • Leila Arab
  • Matmos
  • Zeena Parkins


  • Lynn Fox