Bjork: Manchester International festival:live review
There’s been a lot of talk about Bjork’s comeback and it’s been a long time coming. So here she is in Manchester playing the Manchester International festival with her ”ËBiophilia’ project- a hi tech, hi imagination show about nature and telling everyone that David Attenborough is her favourite rock star and how she was inspired by watching endless clips of his fantastic TV shows for inspiration for the album. She even uses a voiceover from the legend himself to open her show and it’s something that we here at LTW heartily agree with.
The grunt and the growl of nature and the visceral sexual pulse of the wild are always welcome in pop music and when Bjork lets go with her voice you can feel the wildness of nature right there.
But there is more.
For the much talked about show- a three week residency at Manchester’s Campfield Hall, built around her new album that she is taking round the world in a series of residencies- Bjork has got this amazing stage set that is pretty much beyond anything you would normally see on stage.
This is true theatre and a spectacular show and the first on the world tour that sees a 24 piece Icelandic choir in gaudy blue and gold dresses and some real off the wall instrumentation. The gig’s opening song, Thunderbolt, sets the agenda- featuring two Tesla coils which, as anyone who was awake in physics at school will remember as electrical columns that shoot out small bolts of lightning to generate musical notes, there is also a digital pipe organ called a Gameleste apparently and is like a Dr. Who hybrid of a Gamelen and an orchestral celeste. Add to this four giant pendulum harps which are beyond sci fi- using the earth’s gravitational pull to create musical patterns, a ten foot barrel called a Sharpsicord and a synth that is played with lighting- it’s a bit more interesting than guitar/bass and drums and is harnessed to create the ethereal plinky plonky background that is perfect for the weirdest instrument of the lot which is Bjork’s still amazing voice.
Bjork has been around a long time. Punk scene veterans will remember Purrkur Pillnikk the Icelandic art punk anarchist band who toured the UK with the Fall. They morphed into KUKL who were on Crass records and promoted the Crass gig in Iceland, that band then became the Sugercubes who had huge international success before Bjork went solo. Her pop carrier in the post acid house meltdown carved up a very distinctive version of electronic pop with an artful and playful twist. It was always that signature voice though that pulled everything together. She could sound like sex or seagulls- a whooping call to nature cut free from the shackles of conventional pop that created a whole new terrain of sound and made her one of the most distinctive artists of her time.
Distinctive is still the key here. She enters the stage, which is built in the round, tottering on massive platform shoes with blue and white face paint and a massive orange wig. Anyone who has been to Iceland knows that people there dress distinctive and cool- it’s like an island of visionaries but Bjork takes it all one platform sole further.
And this is no normal gig. The new album, Biophilia is another one of those ”Ëfirst album to be recorded on an ipad in the world’ (so was the Gorillaz and a few underground projects) and is a look at the relationship and clash between the feral power of nature and the clean click of technology and has an interactive element where the listener can get lost in the musical experience in several different ways- As well as a standard gig experience the project involves a series of iPad and iPhone applications that allows the audience to play with and create their own versions of the songs.
Although live this is not so easy to pull off, mind you there is plenty going on up there and lots of totally new musical experiences happening to keep the mind engaged. With the hair, the weird instruments and several projections onto massive screens from worms easting dead seals eyes, natural phenomena and the stoic cold planets.
The music matches this backdrop with the choir making it’s mark with its ethereal, quite beautiful, neo Gregorian chanting which builds the songs like on the startling new Crystalline with it’s Xylophone flavored drum and bass back dropped beauty. There was even some old hits like Hidden Place and All Is Full Of Love to keep the people who wanted the sort of stuff happy but it’s this new trip into a new unknown that is the most thrilling and proof that Bjork is one of the most creative artists in the world day who is not content to rest on her laurels and is busy reinventing the basic notion of what a pop show can be and making you think.
Like a lot of fringe artists in Europe- like the folk and electronic flavoured end of the Norwegian black metal scene, Laibach or several East European art freaks this is a very 21st century take on the possibilities of pop. A real adventure into the beyond.
The only difference is the Bjork turns it into pop music.