Back at my sister’s house after the gig, Vessel on the TV, going through the ‘are you obsessed with Björk?’ quiz in the book that came with Vespertine. ‘Of course I’m obsessed with Björk,’ she declares, irritated that anyone could suggest it was open to question. But she doesn’t have the Japanese release of Debut, or the pink vinyl Post. She pretends not to know her surname, in order to have me say it, several times, with increasing uncertainty (‘what’s that? “Goodman’s Dottir”?’) Here’s one though, question 76: ‘Have you been to a Björk or Sugarcubes concert?
‘4 or more? 2 or more in the same week? 2 or more in the same week and in different cities?’
‘Oh, come on!’
Maybe we’re not so obsessed. But we do love Björk and, strange to say, had never seen her play before. Which made this gig the Most Exciting Thing Ever.
What also helped with this were the massive vertical flags hanging above and to the sides of the stage, decorated with drawings of animals (a frog, a rabbit, a crocodile) and one side view of something’s skeleton. It felt a bit like being in Robin Hood, about to see a jousting competition. Instead of which, at length, tumbled onstage a hyperactive warrior brass band (Wonderbrass), some electronic musician types, and Björk herself in fierce face paint invoking ‘Turmoil! Carnage!’ This was the Most Exciting Thing Ever, too. She wasn’t joking, was she, when she said that Volta was a return to performance, after the relative calm of its two predecessors? My favourite Björk album was always Homogenic (I remember seeing the ‘Bachelorette’ video for the first time and thinking, ‘there is a Scott Walker’), and from the set she played, she seems to agree: ‘Hunter’ came second, the lights cooling from their angry red to reveal Björk’s dress to be yellow, flowing like one of Beefheart’s capes. ‘If travel is searching / And home what’s been found’ is so perfect as a statement / question of her intent. We are also blessed with ‘Jóga’, ‘Unravel’ and ‘Pluto’. No ‘Bachelorette’, sadly, but a fine ‘Vertebrae by Vertebrae’, which is kind of the same thing, crushed unpleasantly together with The Drift. I love that song.
It was possibly during ‘Pagan Poetry’ that Björk was one second dancing around and the next spinning silly string Spiderman webs twenty feet across the stage. And was it ‘Hyperballad’ that had the whole height of the hall illuminated with reflective strips bathed in a golden glow? Any light aircraft which might have chanced to pass through (it wouldn’t have been that surprising) would have been safe from radar detection. There are probably many big pop shows around, with many daft effects, but how has it come about that there is only one properly massive pop star left who considers it her duty to fuck with the formula at every turn, to be big and bright, brash and subtle? Shouldn’t that be what they all do? Or did I just miss them, wrapped up in books? Whether or not, The Gummy Stumps would not have stood a chance against this onslaught. ‘Hyperballad’ getting thoroughly raved up towards the end, subsequently joined by ‘Pluto’ and the song the stage set is all about, ‘Declare Independence’. For which the large TV screens at the front of the stage showed an overhead shot of a live! real life! ReacTable creating a live real life exciting pop noise, and I remembered back a few years to when I thought I was going to be a scientist (don’t laugh) and came across the same invention, or at least a paper on it, in an altogether more academic context. Björk is probably the only person who could bring the two worlds together. Cherish her.