Very few music artists know how to cultivate the mystery as Björk does, and very few music artists have a multi-dimensional vision of their art as she does. A Björk show goes way beyond a simple concert, it’s a visual and immersive venture that can easily be experienced like a spectacular daydream. The visuals are so stunning, the lights are so breathtaking, the stage production so mind-blowing that I am not sure “Cornucopia,” the very elaborated two-hour show that the Icelandic star started to perform pre-COVID crisis, could qualify for “concert of the year.” It should rather be called “multi-media super-production of the year” or even of the decade.
“Cornucopia” is an expansion of her “Utopia” album – hence the 12 “Utopia” songs in the setlist – and what I witnessed last night at the Shrine auditorium was a continuum of what Iman saw at the Shed in 2019: the setlist is the same for the simple reason that the perfect synchronization between the music and the visuals would not tolerate any change, or the entire show would have to be reconsidered.
I had opted for a pit ticket because I usually want to be close to the artist, but, if it was extremely thrilling to be so close to Björk when she was shaking her body in her white pom-pom dress, I must say that I sometimes regretted to not be able to see the entire stage at the same time. This is a show that probably requires several viewings at different distances, and since she is playing two other nights, several fans will make another trip to the Shrine on Saturday or Tuesday: that was indeed the talk of the pit!
A few times before the show started, we were reminded to abstain from taking pictures, and this, to several people’s (me included of course) great disappointment. We should enjoy the show without the annoyance of technology we were told, and if phones are sometimes a nuisance during concerts, we are after all in 2022. I often find it irrealistic to ask people to not do something when there is no other reason than the wish of the artist. I mean if you let people in with their phones and if they stand a few meters from the star of the show, photos will be taken! Plus, pit tickets were not cheap and if I pay $300 for standing in the pit, I should be able to enjoy the show the way I want, as long as I don’t disturb anyone else. Security guards were constantly and pointlessly checking for people shooting photos and, as a photographer – yes I am one of these people whose greatest pleasure is to take photos during a show – it was a constant frustration to not be able to capture these moments of pure beauty. I know that they sell photos of the show, but it doesn’t feel the same at all.
We all waited for a long time standing in the pit, in front of the giant thin curtain covered with a multicolor flowery theme, while a peaceful nature soundscape with birds’ sounds was a nice change from the usual playlists blasting inside venues. The Tonality choir (a very diverse choir from LA) started the night with mournful harmonies of what I thought were traditional Icelandic arrangements. They were all dressed in white with golden headgears and their voices were rising in power like ancient religious chants. As the large curtain slowly moves, we first had a glimpse at Björk and her musicians, the last tease before it opened wide, revealing a spectacle of pure beauty. For close to two hours, the heavenly vision never ceased to evolve in front of a wide-eyed audience, displaying ever-changing apparitions of human forms in symbiosis with nature, cascading vegetal volutes, tree branches growing in 3-D front of our faces, giant flowers exploding like a Georgia O’Keeffe’s ultimate fantasy.
With her bright green spandex suit covered with white pompons, Björk looked like a rainforest frog standing on white platform boots and trapped under a forest of water lilies. She started the show with the hypnotic “The Gate” and her inimitable voice flew over swirly soundscapes, filled with the air of a flute quartet. “Flutes rock,” she said toward the end of the show, elevating the peculiar instrument at the center of her avant-garde compositions. During the entire show, a harp, numerous flutes, and percussions were the only instruments performed by a band that looked like a heavenly vision unless they had escaped from an ancient fairy tale.
Around me, all eyes were glued on Björk, especially when she got closer and energetically danced on a stage platform, but there was so much going on everywhere that it was impossible to process everything. The amazing projections in the back of the stage were a perfect fit for the songs, and although I missed quite a lot of details, the trippy animation of crashing bodies during “Body Memory” was especially amazing.
For a few songs (like “Show Me Forgiveness”) Björk took refuge in a reverb-chamber, an intimate cocoon, breathing and vibrating like a living thing and standing in the back of the stage. Designed by the firm Arup, known for the concrete shells of the Sydney Opera House, Björk wanted to recreate the acoustics of the empty chapels of her childhood in order to have a sort of sanctuary on stage. And this says so much about her attention to detail and sound textures. I would never say that Björk’s music is easily accessible, for a long time I have been a bit hermetic to her creative avant-garde but “Vulnicura” changed everything. The delicate “Blissing Me” took an R&B detour with the participation of serpentwithfeet, joining her on stage for the song.
The crowd in the pit was enthusiastic and was reacting to each of her moves, especially when she reached moving high notes. And why wouldn’t they have? The entire show was a delight for the senses, a magical experience with visceral moments, an operatic dimension with a message. Björk wants us to imagine the future, a better future born from a symbiosis between nature and technology. Just before the encore, during which, looking like a white tree pagan goddess she performed the last song of “Utopia,” “Future Forever,” a projection of activist Greta Thunberg gave us the ultimate message of the night, shaking us from our ethereal reverie by reminding us about the urgency of the moment. To the cheering crowd, Greta’s words sounded as powerful as one of Björk’s songs, and the entire show became an invitation to live her Utopia. Can activism truly change the world? Can art change the world? We are all believers for a night.
In a world increasingly turning darker and uglier, Björk consistently chooses mystery, optimism, and beauty. With the help of a few magic flutes, “Cornucopia” tells us a tale for the ages, while Björk shares her vision for the future. It is for us to decide if we are truly willing to work for it.
Bird Sounds and Soundscapes
Family (The Tonality choir)
The Gate (Utopia)
Arisen My Senses (Utopia)
Show Me Forgiveness (Medulla)
Venus as a Boy (Debut)
Blissing Me (with serpentwithfeet) (Utopia)
Arpegggio (Flute solo)
Body Memory (Utopia)
Hidden Place (Vespertine)
Mouth’s Cradle (Medulla)
Features Creatures (Utopia)
Pagan Poetry (Vespertine)
Sue Me (Utopia)
Tabula Rasa (Utopia)
A message by Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg
Future Forever (Utopia)
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