wed 21/02/2024

Björk, SSE Hydro, Glasgow review- Icelandic experimentalist reimagines live performance | reviews, news & interviews

Björk, SSE Hydro, Glasgow review- Icelandic experimentalist reimagines live performance

Björk, SSE Hydro, Glasgow review- Icelandic experimentalist reimagines live performance

The performer brings her 'most elaborate staged concert to date' to Glasgow

Björk's Cornucopia tour is a thing of intricate beauty, incorporating striking visuals

Grimes, the Canadian art pop performer, made headlines last week when she predicted the end of musical performance as we know it on a podcast interview with theoretical physicist Sean Carroll. Live music, she said, would be “obsolete soon”, while she gave a window of a couple of decades in which artificial intelligence would become “so much better at making art” than human creatives.

I suspect that Björk, who has been incorporating cutting edge technology into her music since before Grimes was born, would have a few opinions on live music’s purported obsolescence. Her Cornucopia tour, which began as an eight-night residency in New York, is a thing of intricate beauty, incorporating striking visuals, Balmain couture, an 18-member choir, a seven-piece flute section and a video message from climate change activist Greta Thunberg. But around the spectacle are tiny moments of organic wonder: water poured from a series of wooden bowls as percussion; delicate harp; the cocoon-like vocal pod into which she retreats at intervals to sing unamplified.

Iceland’s Hamrahlid Youth Choir, which counts Björk herself (along with, she tells us later, “half of Iceland”) amongst its alumni, opened the show, singing around the length of a traditional support slot but whose lack of formal billing intrigued and confused. Their traditional costume and pastoral sweetness couldn’t have been further from the futuristic sounds of Björk’s most recent work - but when the traditional Icelandic melodies gave way to covers of Björk’s own “Sonnets/Unrealities XI” and “Cosmogony” a shiver of recognition pulsed through the crowd.

The curtain, shimmering, revealed itself to be strings of lights, slowly parting to reveal Björk in bulbous Balmain. Behind her, flutes rose like an undulating wave, keeping time to “The Gate”, the testament to the healing power of love from 2017’s Utopia. Sensual floral projections and sounds from the natural world - birdsong, skittering bass, flute-led melodies - accompany the album’s title track, while “Arisen My Senses” comes across less like performance than natural possession, every strum on the harp letting off another burst of living light.

“Venus As A Boy”, from her 1993 debut, and “Isobel”, from 1995’s Post, appear amongst newer material; the former barely recognisable in an organic arrangement for single flute, the latter accompanied by the band jerking and undulating in time to juddering, reimagined percussion. “Show Me Forgiveness” finds Björk retreating to her custom-built reverb chamber for a primal performance, more raw than even the stripped-back recording; while a breathtaking “Blissing Me” featured percussionist Manu Delago creating rhythm by pouring water from wooden bowls into a trough of water.

A heaviness, a shifting: “Body Memory” sounded like the world is coming apart, bass floating in the air while disturbing visuals showed bodies mangled bodies rent with spikes. The claustrophobia of the moment was elevated by trapping Björk inside the loop of her “circle flute”, four members of flute ensemble Viibra taking their places around her. A darkly sensual “Hidden Place”, the na-na-na-nas of the choir the only accompaniment, restored some of the equilibrium.

“Mouth’s Cradle” felt like a faerie reverie straight from the pages of Shakespeare: dancing flautists in floating white garb, djembe drum and the choir. “Features Creatures” came with glacier-like visuals, stripped of the beats which characterise the album version to emphasise the devastating poetry of the lyrics; while “Pagan Poetry” needed only a little harp to elevate the evocativeness of the chorus.

A projected message about the risks to humanity of global governments pulling out of the Paris Agreement on climate change perhaps inadvertently summed up the show: a modern utopia, where technology and nature coexist and create something new. The future of live music is in safe hands.


Around the spectacle are tiny moments of organic wonder


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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