Thursday, July 18th, 2013
Björk at Echo Beach in Toronto
Lucia GracaWhile no one would argue that Björk has always done exactly what she wanted from an artistic point of view, the broader audience that met her first three solo releases and made her one of the unlikeliest stars of the Alternative Nation in the ’90s – as well as probably the most famous Icelander in the world – has waned somewhat in the 21st century. But regardless of the muted response to 2011’s Biophilia, she still counts her fans by the thousands and they were out in force at Echo Beach on Tuesday night for her first local show in almost six years, since headlining the first night of V Fest 2007.
That show – also on the water, albeit across the harbour from this one on Olympic Island – was a confetti-and-laser-and-brass-powered extravaganza fitting the tone of her previous album Volta, but given the relatively inward-looking tone of Biophilia – the first tours in support of it were performed in intimate theatres in the round – it’s not surprising that the stage setup was rather more austere. Or so it seemed, at first. As far as players went, Björk was traveling with only a percussionist and keyboardist/programmer, but the fourteen members of female Icelandic choir Graduale Nobili would prove to be more than the equal to a conventional band.
It’s hard to take the spotlight off of Björk, especially in an electric blue sparkly dress and huge orange Biophilia wig, but Graduale Nobili were the perfect backdrop/accompaniment for her, both aurally and visually as the stage setup was more akin to a theatre space than a concert stage and they were called on to perform as dancers as well as singers. Their parts meticulously and brilliantly arranged, they were by turns mysteriously foreboding or giddily celebratory and offered their matriarchal leader support or cover as the show demanded, their presence energized the show and especially gave extra life to the Biophilia material, with the presentation of “Crystalline” in particular coming across as revelatory compared to the recorded version.
But as improved as the newer material sounded live, it was still the older songs that proved the show-stoppers, and not just because they were the most familiar. “One Day” – the only nod to Debut despite marking its 20th anniversary this month – was stripped down to a gorgeous and haunting vocal and steel hand drum, and if Graduale Nobili had been brought along only to provide the call-and-response chorus to “Pagan Poetry”, it’d have been worth the price of the airfare. If there’s a moment everyone will remember, however, it’d be “Army Of Me” wherein a pair of Tesla coils in a cage descended from the stage ceiling, their electrical arcs synched to the synths while over a dozen girls danced like mad on the stage. Simply amazing. And ranked right alongside as show highlights would be “Hyperballad” transforming midway into a strobe-powered rave up cover of LFO’s “Freak” (so I’m told, I wouldn’t know an LFO song if I heard one) and the massive walls of flame and sparks that backlit set closer “Náttúra”. After that breathtaking peak, the banging one-song, Trayvon Martin-dedicated encore of “Declare Independence” seemed almost unnecessary – the preceding highs were not to be topped – but considering how rarely Björk finds her way here and how spectacular her shows are, if you’re doing anything less than savouring every minute of it, you’re quite simply doing it wrong.
The Toronto Star, Exclaim, BlogTO, The National Post, The Huffington Post, and NOW also have reviews of the show. Noisey reflects on Björk’s 20-year solo career in terms of both music and visual style.
MP3: Björk – “Verandi”
MP3: Björk – “It’s In Our Hands”
MP3: Björk – “Cosmogony”
Video: Björk – “Hollow”
Video: Björk – “Mutual Core”
Video: Björk – “Moon”
Video: Björk – “Crystalline”
Video: Björk – “Innocence”
Video: Björk – “Declare Independence”
Video: Björk – “Wanderlust”
Video: Björk – “Dull Flame Of Desire”
Video: Björk – “Earth Intruders”
Video: Björk – “Where Is The Line”
Video: Björk – “Triumph Of A Heart”
Video: Björk – “Who Is It”
Video: Björk – “Oceania”
Video: Björk – “Hidden Place”
Video: Björk – “Cocoon”
Video: Björk – “Pagan Poetry”
Video: Björk – “Joga”
Video: Björk – “Bachelorette”
Video: Björk – “Hunter”
Video: Björk – “Alarm Call”
Video: Björk – “All Is Full Of Love”
Video: Björk – “Isobel”
Video: Björk – “Possibly Maybe”
Video: Björk – “I Miss You”
Video: Björk – “Army Of Me”
Video: Björk – “Hyperballad”
Video: Björk – “It’s Oh So Quiet”
Video: Björk – “Human Behaviour”
Video: Björk – “Venus As A Boy”
Video: Björk – “Big Time Sensuality”
Video: Björk – “Violently Happy”
Video: Björk – “Play Dead”
Norwegian singer/producer/pop star Annie tells Noisey that the break that followed 2009’s Don’t Stop is over and to prove it, a song from her new release The A&R EP, out August 5, is available to stream.
Stream: Annie – “Hold On”
Video: Indians – “Magic Kids”