Venue: Hammersmith Apollo, London.
Reviewer: Phil W
Well it only seems right to mention (before you start reading this review) that the playing field isn’t entirely even! There is a chance my version of the story will be entirely bias and I just thought that was important for you to know at this point in the game. I’m a big admirer of Björk and have been for some years. I’ll be thirty this year, a fact that seems to occur to me almost every day, but while most of the posters from my teenage years disappeared years ago from my bedroom wall, and posters in general gave way with age to pictures in frames, one single poster remains; Björk. I’ve had the poster well over a decade and love it so much that when it came to doing the photo shoot for the release of The Road to Corm’s debut album, I had myself photographed standing next to it.
So, after a five year break from touring and two more albums, Björk was back in the UK for three headline slots at London’s Hammersmith Apollo and I was there for the second. As usual the support act was largely missable. Maybe I’m missing something, maybe I just didn’t get it, but I wasn’t impressed by Leila’s DJ set. But then this wasn’t a night club and no-one was dancing. Some of the ‘sounds’ were genuinely intriguing, and I did my best to appreciate what she was doing, but it was evident by the general disinterest of the crowd, that we were all here to see Björk.
The stage explodes, the circus has definitely arrived! A brass band march onto stage, machines churn clouds of confetti into the air and Björk appears in the centre of it all sporting a wild hairstyle and bizarre dress. She hops frantically around the stage, somewhere between a sugar-overdosed ten year old and a mischievous pixie, singing, chirping and screaming with genuine joy and glee. After two decades of fronting rock-n-roll acts, she still seems to love every moment on the stage and there is no doubt of Björk’s belief in what she does. She has a genuine passion for her music, and in interviews she gives the impression of never doubting her next pirouette in musical direction. She opens with Earth Intruders, the only song on her new album Volta that sounds like it might have been recording in the mid-90’s. It’s synth-pop forced through the Björk blender and it sounds fantastic!
Other songs from the new album go down well too, my personal favorite being horn-driven Wonderlust which really came to life on stage. It’s not often these days that I find myself only really understanding a song when it’s played live, but this was one of those moments and a live triumph. Older material like Hunter, Bachelorette, Joga and a stunning rendition of Army Of Me - delivered with industrial strength - were also real highlights. And there were chillingly beautiful moments in the set, such as when Björk sung the delicate Unravel while encircled by her brass band which she introduced as Wonder Brass, and her stunning rendition of Desired Constellation from newer album Medulla.
But then partway through the set Björk loses all her momentum. She probably meant to, as she let a huge sway of slower songs from her newer albums take the lion’s share of the stage time down the middle of the set. It’s unfortunate, and I’d hate to think of myself as someone who’s living in the past, but these songs just seem weaker than the older material. And while Björk seemed to be obviously loving performing the newer material, I found myself torn. On the one hand, I wanted to hear the classics I’ve loved all these years. But on the other hand it’s great to see a successful artist still producing and performing new material, twenty years into her career, and still exploring and expanding her boundaries as an artist with every new record. I couldn’t wish her to play the same set of greatest hits over and over but then I just didn’t feel the new material was as strong or held together as well. Björk breathed life back into the set with Hyperballad and then a heavy industrial performance of Pluto before returning for the energetic stomp and call to arms of new single Declare Independence. It was a fantastic closer but you were left feeling you wanted to see the set again, if only to appreciate more those probably lovely performances down the middle of the set you just didn’t quite get the first time around. But there’s no time for all that, an hour and a half with Iceland’s queen diva goes pretty quick and before you know it you’ve bought the t-shirt, taken and ride and you’re out the doors. Either way, I wasn’t disappointed. I shall be back here in five years time, the next time Björk is in town. It’s just the way it’s always been.
01. Intro - Brennið Þið Vitar
02. Earth Intruders
06. The Pleasure Is All Mine
07. Dull Flame Of Desire
08. Pagan Poetry
09. Vertebrae By Vertebrae
10. Desired Constellation
11. Army Of Me
13. Who Is It
14. Cover Me
19. Declare Independence