Björk: Live! Tonight! Sold Out!
NB: above pic is not from the Feb. 3 2012 performance in Queens, NYC. But it is still very representative of the Biophilia show.
I know nothing about fashion. But hey, I think I have some baseline ability to appreciate art in varied forms, so during Summer 2011 I went with my lady friend (minimal cajolery required, believe it or not) to check out the Alexander McQueen exhibit at The Met. This was a pretty rewarding experience despite waiting in line for approximately five (yep) hours. One personally unforgettable moment: Björk’s "Frosti" was the soundtrack to a later section. It had been a while since I had listened to her, and yet I was instantly switched on like a Cylon. But more importantly: what eerie foreshadowing.
Fast forward to January and a friend of mine on Google+ pointed out that Björk would be playing some very special dates in not just NYC, but Queens. Actually, not just Queens, a science museum therein (with all due respect, it has a deep history). For those of you who don’t know, Queens is a strange place. It is one of the most diverse parts of the United States (aside: I didn’t know what to make of Jackson Heights when I first moved here, but I have come to greatly appreciate it), yet commonly derided by the mostly white NYC hipster (read: fuckwit) class. Brooklyn it ain’t. So, to recap: Björk, live, in Queens, science center. Sure, let’s do this.
A word on Björk’s latest, Biophilia: challenging. There are moments of it that I genuinely enjoy and appreciate, but I wasn’t coming back for repeated listens like Post or Vespertine. I wasn’t utterly losing myself in it like previous works. But then this thing happened; she performed on Colbert. Consider it the opposite of Lana Del Ray on SNL in every possible way. Biophilia was starting to make sense to me, finally. Or more controversially, maybe Biophilia as a recorded album is a failure in that it doesn’t capture just how powerful its songs are. Or maybe it was intended for something else…
As I remarked to some random guy I was chatting with as we waited to enter NYHS’s Main Hall, I’ve never been to a performance where the opening act was a science exhibit. For about 90 minutes before doors to the hall opened, we were free to check out the museum and its many interactive pieces. Space, physics, the body: such a strange prelude…but not. After all, Biophilia has lyrics about DNA and plate tectonics.
So here we were in the Main Hall. It’s small and it’s blue. It’s mellow and it’s welcoming. The stage was in the center of the room. Interesting because I was worried while waiting for the show to begin. I was between the percussionist’s kit and the keyboardist/nerd/programmer station. Crap? Ultimately, not in the least. While the aforementioned pair and the harpist (on the far side of the stage from me) were stationary, Björk and the choir moved all about during the performance. Nobody really had a premium location (actually, I did in the end, but more on that later).
It really wasn’t long before this whole Biophilia thing started making sense on multiple levels. Sonically, the recorded album simply does not capture the grandeur of the songs. Live, the choir is huge. The writing is extremely parsimonious and uses a lot of space, but live it isn’t wanting. I found myself lost in it just like the albums of yesteryear. What makes it even that much more different are the lyrics. Consider this section one of my favorite older tunes, “Possibly Maybe”:
Electric shocks?…I love them…With you dozen a day…But after a while I wonder…Where’s that love you promised me?…Where is it?
These lyrics are brimming with sensuality. I’m not sure I see that in Biophilia. Or, more precisely, I’m not sure that I saw that in Biophilia, until now. Live, these songs really blossomed. While Colbert joked (hilariously) about “ruining” art with science, the truth of the matter is that these songs are just as much paeans to science as they are metaphors for all of the sensuality, agony and joy typical of Bjork. The intimacy of the venue intensified this greatly. Björk herself was, as to be expected, commanding of the space—evocative, moody, whimsical all at once. The choir had a charmingly awkward and loose choreography (at times they huddled with hoods up, other times they sat, and they rocked out during the heavy dancier moments) and the instrumentalists were simply stellar.
So what about the set itself? I would guess it was about 70% Biophilia. I don’t know her complete catalog, so a few songs I did not recognize. But from the classics, an incomparable treat: “Pagan Poetry”. Earlier I said that the crowd got equal shares of Björk time. However, I was the clear winner tonight, because she basically sang 2:10-2:45 from a distance of approximately 10’ (perhaps less) from me. I realize the section that follows is what gives a lot of listeners goose bumps, but the 2:10 mark is the epitome of soul.
All in all, this was an unforgettable performance that transcended what we probably all think of when we think of a concert. I saw Björk probably about five years ago now at a larger venue. Despite the fact that that show consisted primarily of her classics, tonight was infinitely richer. Just like her best music, it annihilated the boundaries of what I thought was previously possible. Björk in a large venue? “Sex without touching”.
Btw., if you want to research all of the craziness that went into this production, Google “Andy Cavatorta”.