Bjork + Biophilia + Bowl = Brilliant (Concert Review)

Bjork at The Hollywood Bowl – (06/11/13)

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Reviewed by Dale Nickey:

After three intimate in-the-round performances at the Hollywood Palladium, planet Bjork landed at The Hollywood Bowl Tuesday night for one last blast of the potent nature/technology/music cocktail that is her current Biophilia project.  One wonders if the Hollywood-specific focus of her efforts is, in any way, a statement to Tinseltown that there is more to Bjork  than the much ballyhooed swan dress that she wore at the 2001 Oscar ceremony.  Probably not.  She has never been known to give a crap about celebrity gossip.

No matter, the assembled multitude at The Bowl will only remember Bjork and Graduale Nobili (Icelandic ‘choir girls gone wild’) performing a generous, lavish set of outsider Art-Pop.  Bjork has recovered fully from throat surgery that forced date cancellations earlier in the tour.  If you’re worried about the state of her voice, don’t.  She pushed the degree of difficulty and stuck every landing.  And, if the adoring Bowl throng was disappointed at not hearing fan favorites “Isobel”, “Human Behavior”, or “Bachlorette”, they didn’t show it.  Give Bjork her props;  she held a canyon full of hyperactive metrosexuals and millennials spellbound with a set of brainy, complex, and (for the most part) downbeat selections from her latest album “Biophilia”,  as well as some eclectic offerings from her back catalog.

After the audience bestowed their patience on the sacrificial opening act, our heroine made sure we cooled our heals in the parlor an appropriate amount of time before she deigned to descend the staircase and receive callers.  All the while a curt text message appeared on the five massive video screens (in Spanish and English) informing us that her majesty did not appreciate bootleg recording or I-phone waving at the expense of her performance…tank yu…

Initially, this writer had some concern about the diminutive warrior princess getting lost in the vast expanse of The Hollywood Bowl.  Fears were put to rest quickly with the opener “Cosmology”. The video images were celestial and stunning.  More important, they were relevant. Bjork’s latest work “Biophilia” is an album length love letter to nature in all its forms and substructures. Deep space, moon, rock crystals and microscopic organisms. The resulting live show is equal parts multi-media rock extravaganza and x-treme power point presentation.

One small beef was that Bjork only appeared on the big screen once during her performance. That was on the second song “Hunter”.  It was a tease not to be repeated.

Sound was precise, full, clear and excellent throughout.  Sonic integrity was even maintained during the mega-decibel set closer “Nattura”, where Bjork and the girls let their hair down and had a collective spazz attack while flames engulfed the stage.

There was a scarcity of classic material on the set list.  However, when Bjork did lob a chart hit into the audience it was gobbled up voraciously like sharks to chum.  “Joga” (from Homogenic) was moving and poignant; an emotional highlight.  Also, “Possibly Maybe” benefited greatly from a post-modern makeover from her skilled and focused two- piece band.  Again, a shout out to Graduale Nobili .  Refreshingly free of spandex and danskins;  all of them sang their asses off,  all of them had a blast,  and all were real  flesh and blood beauties who looked like they didn’t mind eating a healthy meal.

In the end, Bjork rewarded our adoration with three encore pieces.  First off was a gorgeous a cappella workout by the girls titled “Oskasteiner”.  Then Bjork came out sporting some sort of spiked plastic head-wear. She then gave us a proper orgasm with “Hyperballad”.  When Bjork and band finally floored the gas pedal on “Declare Independence”, she had all the shiny happy people dancing in the aisles.

It’s nice to know that in this dystopian, Duck Dynasty world, it’s still possible to enjoy an alien visitation. In our time and place, Bjork is as close to an extraterrestrial as we’re likely to get. Seeing her live should definitely be on your bucket list.  Because, like the snow leopard; when she’s gone, that’s it, show’s over. There won’t be another coming along to replace her.

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Lost Treasures – Bjork’s “Medulla” Revisited

There’s a huge difference between viewing the video of a baby’s birth and witnessing the squalling, chaotic, fluid spewing event up close and in person.  Bjork’s Medulla peels off some layers and allows us to move a little closer to the act of creation. Missing are the  lush orchestrations she usually employs to frame her muse. Bjork maintains her aesthetic despite the fact she takes a 180 degree turn away from orthodox instrumentation. Medulla gives us a record equipped only with the most primal tool of human expression; the voice.  Not just an a cappella exercise, Medulla (in typical Bjorkian fashion) redefines the voice’s function as a musical delivery medium.  Many artists before have tried their hand at the ‘all vocal’ album. But, none have succeeded as Bjork has on Medulla.  Her mission is to not just celebrate the voice, but to subvert, distort and manipulate it into a third entity.  Part human, part synthetic, and 100 % unique . Even the drumbeats on the album are produced by vocal slight of hand.

Before Medulla, the trajectory of her studio work was admirably logical. Every album was a consolidation and advancement over the one previous. Post (Bjork’s brilliant second album), took Debut’s fusion of organic and electronic elements and pumped up the drama by accenting  the electric and eclectic.  On Homogenic (Bjork’s third album), the Icelandic String Octet shared  the spotlight with massive electronic beats to help define a new genre (Icelandic Neoclassical Soul/Pop).  When Bjork followed up with Vespertine, the strings had expanded it’s role to a grand, orchestral scale augmented with a full female choir; the big beat replaced by a shower of skittering micro beats buzzing around the stereo spectrum like flying audio insects.  After Vespertine Bjork was at a crossroads artistically.  She chose to roll the commercial dice and challenge her audience.  There are some remarkable highlights on Medulla.

“Where Is The Line With You” is the most ‘off the wall’ track on Medulla. For me,  it carries the benign menace of a 50’s science fiction movie but manages to do it with a smile and a wink.  It doesn’t really matter if you don’t know what she’s carrying on about.  It’s a meticulous cacophony.  The joy of noise for it’s own sake. Special mention to Faith No More frontman Mike Patton for adding extra menace and color to this amazing track.

“Oceania” is the prettiest track on the album.  A female chorus swirls around the main melody like glissando piano runs.  However, the result is otherworldly. On this track–like most of Medulla—you will hear sounds you’ve never heard on a record before .Bjork – Oceania

“Triumph Of A Heart” is the closest thing to a commercial single on the album.  It’s catchy and wacky.  Japanese vocalist Dokaka is allowed to have his way with TOAH and leaves his indelible mark on the track.  And like any strong seasoning, a little Dokaka goes a long way.watch toah 

“Mouths Cradle” is an ambitious piece.  More than any other track, “Mouths Cradle” seems the most comfortable in its skin.  Both extremes of Medulla merge seamlessly on the track; the organic and technological.

At times the performances on Medulla are so raw and immediate, you get the feeling the writing process ended mere nanoseconds before the record button was pressed. At other times it seems you’re eavesdropping on an artist in holy communion with her muse.  If you want to hear the true essence of Bjork, this is the album to own. It’s hard to call this album her masterpiece. The overall excellence of  of her early period is hard to dismiss.  However on a purely creative level, Medulla may well be Bjork’s greatest achievement.