The first time I saw Bjork was 20 years again at the Academy opposite the old New York Times building, that was on the Post tour, and I’ve seen her every tour since then , and Saturday afternoon at the City Center on West 55th street is the best I have ever seen her. The 140 minute concert with an early noon start, was broken into two sets plus intermission and encore.With the 15-piece string orchestra, Alarm Will Sound in a semi circle surrounding her, South American electronica Arca behind them to their left and multi percussionist to Manu Delago behind them to their right, Bjork performed six songs from her excellent new album Vulnicura, like a woman possessed, like Nemesis or Tamora or something, detailing the dissolution of her fifteen year relationship, till it ends with her stamping her feet to the martial sounds of “Notmet” completeing the first set.
This first set is nearly exactly what I was expecting. Indeed, it was exactly, in every detail with the possible exception of Bjork’s barely contained wrath, what I expected and hoped for. But the second set wasn’t what I expected at all. The last time I saw Bjork was the entirely elaborate Biophilia gig at Roseland (reviewed here) and always there has been a sense of disguise and performance art to everything the Icelandic Princess has done, but in the second set she stripped herself of any distancing effects, and danced and sang eight of her songs. Dressed in a tight mauve colored dress and with her straight brown hair down to her neck, she looked attractive and without artifice.
The concept here is thesis-antithesis-catharsis-new thesis. As if the powerful retelling of her loved ones betrayal of her and her family, once told, once completed and was over, and in the second set the new thesis: the rejuvenated and joyful woman that is Bjork has emerged. The centerpiece of of the first set was “Black Lake”, the stop motion song which seems, after seeing it live, like a thought process: Bjork thinking what she wants to say to her man and then the ideas stop, and she returns to brooding and thinking till they start up again. In the second set the centerpiece is the joyful sexual “Pleasure Is All Mine” followed by “Come To Me”. And here, once and for all, the Bjork we know from SNL and the oscars is just a memory. She dances well, moves about the stage, moves her hips… it is remarkable, it is as if for once she wants to be seen precisely for who she is. The lack of artifice is artificial but the sound is organic and beautiful and sexy, the giggling Icelandic parody is from as a different a time, as the wounded and hurt spawned lover earlier this afternoon.
This entire second half is just incredible, it is as though she has saved herself from the familial and romantic betrayal of Vulnicura (despite performing two of the tracks) and emerged whole, emerged better. She looks beautiful, free and happy, as though be sharing her love and her betrayal, she has found her way back to where she was and then moved beyond it. True catharsis and artistry with beats that have moved from heavy boots on hard metal hearts to those of a ballerina.
If you have heard and loved Vulnicura as much as I do (I consider it her best album since Post), you must see this performance. It completes the journey to a bright future. It is magic realism, where through art one is made whole. A masterpiece of a performance.
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