Björk’s Echo Beach show in Toronto utterly unstoppable, 17 juillet 2013

There are artists and then there are artists completely in command of their art.
Icelandic iconoclast Björk Gudmundsdóttir falls in the latter camp, having traced an unimaginably imaginative career path over 35 of her 47 years on this planet — or since arriving on this planet, as some have ventured in the past — from classically trained child prodigy to quirky teenage punk to trendsetting early adopter of rave-era dance music to whatever otherworldly entity Björk you might call Björk these days.

There’s really no one out there like Björk. She’s a universe apart from such innovative forebears as Laurie Anderson or Kate Bush or Nina Hagen, a crucial stop on the road to Bat for Lashes and Grimes and the Knife and Austra today. And, truth be told, she’s gone so far out there during the past decade or so that her recordings have increasingly felt more like impossibly heady assignments than mechanisms of audio pleasure ; the last, 2011’s Biophilia, for instance, was presented as an immersive, app-based, multi-platform art “experience” so musically and conceptually impenetrable that one wondered if Björk had finally, fatally crossed over into the realm of “studied and appreciated, but rarely enjoyed.”

The live show, though, is still unstoppable. Utterly unstoppable. Björk’s Echo Beach date in Toronto on Tuesday night was truly a transporting, tingle-inducing thing to behold, a place where all of Björk’s latter-years “Björk-centricisms” convened to make perfect sense. The only reason you don’t see a four-star rating above is that her fireworks-strewn performance in support of Vespertine on Olympic Island in 2003 — there’s been only Toronto Björk gig since, a similarly visionary, brass-band-bolstered headlining slot in the same place for Virgin Fest five years later — which this jaded music writer will cherish to the grave as one of the finest and most perfectly sculpted shows he’s ever witnessed.

Echo Beach came close. Arriving onstage at sunset in a frizzy red shock-wig and sparkly blue cocktail dress, Björk and her pseudo-minimalist coterie of accompanists — gadgets whiz/musical director Matt Robertson, ridiculously deft electro-acoustic percussionist Manu Delago, an energetic, 14-piece choir of Icelandic females and a gigantic, caged Tesla coil that would occasionally drop from the rafters to spark and buzz terrifying low-end emanations across what’s left of Ontario Place — seduced most of the 5,000-ish crowd into attentive silence with a spooky, ambient-choral version of Biophilia’s “Cosmogony” set to some fittingly cosmic, animated video reels well before the tune’s eruptive coda-clatter of martial percussion shut down even the yakkers at the back.

Homogenic’s slippery “Hunter” subsequently locked everyone in by dangling a tether to Björk’s unlikely populist past. After that, even the elementally minded anti-formalism displayed by Biophilia extracts like “Thunderbolt,” “Moon” and “Crystalline” had no problem hypnotizing Echo Beach from tip to tail with the sort of vaporous/pretentious artsy-fartsiness that, in lesser hands, would be death in an outdoor venue of its size.

Granted, the gorgeous visuals of cycling lunar phases, spewing torrents of magma, mingling starfish and invasive viruses were a help when the endless run of slow bits got a bit … well … slow. The explosion of diced-up jungle beats that concluded “Crystalline” and the subliminal rhythmic swing driving a joyous “Heirloom” chorale hinted, however, at the battery to come once the performance’s reserved first act was crowned by a riveting “One Day” delivered with naught but Björk’s elastic bark and Delago’s hands pitter-pattering across a pair of complementarily tuned (and thoroughly well-miked) “hang” drums and the swelling lullaby “Jóga.”

Then it was time to crush the place. Really crush it. “Army of Me” flipped the switch to “kill” and steamrollered over Echo Beach in a Tesla-fired tidal wave of pure, oozing bass menace. A swooning “Hyperballad” erupted mid-song into a buzzing hard-techno banger that drew its hair-raising oomph from the crafty interpolation of an old LFO track. By the time Volta’s violent “Declare Independence” stormed defiantly forth from the P.A. 20 minutes later, we were in the throes of a raging digi-punk dance party that would give Crystal Castles pause.

Björk interrupted the song — built around cries of “Don’t let them do that to you !,” “Make your own flag !,” and “Justice !” — to dedicate it to Trayvon Martin, then walked into the wings while the audience carried on its refrain of “Raise your flag ! Raise your flag !” How we got from such a stately “Point A” to such a raucous “Point B,” I don’t know. But I do know I likely won’t experience another voyage like it for a long time.

par Ben Rayner publié dans