Bjork - Live

By james

Bjork - Toronto - 09/03/03

What do you get when you put thousands of Bjork fans on an island?

It could very easily be the set up for a really bad joke or the opening line of a trailer for an even worse movie. And at times during ferry ride to and the 2-plus hour wait to get off of Olympic Island, it did indeed seem like I was in the middle of "Escape from Bjork Island" - coming soon to a theater near you!

Bjork went all out for the final show of her 2003 summer tour. [Okay, so it really wasn't supposed to be the last night, but logistics moved the show from August 26 to September 3, making it so.] The venue was a field on Toronto's Olympic Island. Kid Koala and Bonnie Prince Billy provided the support - Kid Koala was very, very good, and Bonnie Prince Billy was very, very bad. [To be fair, his rather - er - downtrodden style of song writing didn't exactly fit the mood, especially after Kid Koala's incredibly fun set.] And Bjork brought the pyrotechnics - both literal and figurative.

At almost exactly 9 o'clock [there was a 10:30 curfew to meet, after all, and herds of people to get back to the mainland], Bjork took the makeshift stage under the half moon. Along with her for the evening was Matmos, Zeena Perkins, and the Icelandic String Octet, bringing together the key players from her past two major tours. Fittingly, the setlist favored "Vespertine" and especially "Homogenic" over "Debut" and "Post", though at least two songs - or a single and a b-side in the case of "Debut" - represented each album. As with the "Vespertine" tour, the set was structured with the more reserved songs first and saved the "rocking out" for the second half of the set [with the exception of an Icelandic 'You've Been Flirting Again' introducing 'Isobel' and encore opener 'Scary'], though there was no intermission to separate the two, and it's really saying something when 'Joga' and 'Pagan Poetry' are among the "reserved" songs of the evening. Making the most of the outdoor venue, certain songs also featured three-foot pillars of flame shooting up from the stage while fireworks exploded in the air behind it. This was mostly saved for the big rockers - 'Hyperballad', 'Pluto', 'Human Behaviour' - though the chorus of 'Joga' curiously got them as well.

Bjork has a history of reworking songs for her live shows, and this was certainly no exception. 'Sidasta Eg' was re-imagined as a duet between Bjork and Zeena Perkins on celeste and worked wonderfully, even if it did go over with the audience like a ton of bricks. 'Hunter' had new beats courtesy of Matmos, and the Icelandic String Octet provided a string backing chorus for songs such as 'Pagan Poetry' and 'Aurora'. 'Joga' was actually un-reworked [??] from it's string-and-vocal live style with Matmos providing its monster beats. [Another interesting contrast with 'Joga' - the beats are supposed to represent the shifting and clashing of glaciers, yet this was the first song of the night to feature the flame turrets.]

Even if songs weren't reworked, they were kicked up a notch. The welcome return of '5 Years' - possibly "Homogenic"'s most criminally overlooked offering - had its beats distorted to the point of being almost overwhelming. Both 'Isobel' and especially 'Bachelorette' were more over-the-top theatrical than usual. The always welcome 'Hyperballad', show closer 'Human Behaviour', and superior Soft Pink Truth version of 'It's In Our Hands' were dance monsters, and main set closer 'Pluto' was an insane cacophony of distorted beats, amplified strings, and processed vocals.

But the big songs weren't the only ones on display tonight, as Bjork resurrected a number of fan favorites for this very special show on this very special tour. The aforementioned 'Sidasta Eg' provided an early set highlight, despite no one seeming to know what it was. 'Nature is Ancient' - a song she seems to have developed an affinity for as of late - was an especially welcome addition to the set as one of her best b-sides, and 'Scary' was a seemingly odd choice for inclusion but worked fantastically as an introduction to 'Human Behaviour'. 'Heirloom' - which was never performed on the "Vespertine" tour for some reason - showed up tonight to act as a bridge between the two moods. While we only got one of new songs - the skittering 'Desired Constellation', a cousin of sorts to 'Domestica' - but it's hard to complain with all of the other surprises she unearthed.

[I'm going to complain a little more anyway - 'All is Full of Love' has really worn out its welcome, I'm still trying to figure out why this was the only show on the tour that she didn't perform 'Unravel', and the merchandise that wasn't left over from the "Vespertine" tour was crap, though it all was horrendously overpriced.]

I should also mention her outfit. The swan dress has finally been retired [though a swan was still present in the form of a spinning sparkler display that went off during 'Human Behaviour' along with the fireworks and flames.] She's sporting a rather unpractical new haircut that's part pageboy, part extreme bangs punk rock girl. The bangs are cut short and straight across the front of her face and extend to just over her left ear, with the rest of her hair hanging straight down to just above shoulder length. Her dress was a puffy black number with green taffeta snaking up her side and around her back to her left shoulder. There was a splotch of green paint on her left cheek and around her left eye, making it look like the accessory didn't stop at her shoulder. She was even wearing a pair of shoes at the beginning of the show - a pair of either silver or black and white pumps, I couldn't tell which from where I was standing - but in typical Bjork fashion, she shed them during the second song.

And it wouldn't be right not to mention the happy birthday singalong midway through the set. After 'Heirloom' [I think], Bjork informed the audience that she needed our help. She then explained that it had been one of the members of the Icelandic String Octet's birthday [Jonina I believe her name was], and she asked us to help her sing for her, and she led the crowd and everyone else on stage through a verse of 'Happy Birthday' - with her trademark 'sank you' at the end.

All in all, it's hard to imagine anyone left the show more than slightly disappointed. So what do you get when you put thousands of Bjork fans on an island? A really fucking good time, that's what.