Bjork - Hammersmith Apollo Live Review

Hammersmith Apollo, 17/04/08
Live Review


Whilst Björk's latest album 'Volta' wasn't poorly received, it nevertheless failed to garner the gushing compliments and hyperbole of previous efforts such as 'Vespertine', perhaps due to a return to the manic eclecticism of her early work.

However any doubts that tonight's gig, one of three sell-out shows at the Hammersmith Apollo, will be merely 'ok' as opposed to 'utterly spellbinding' are quashed the moment Wonderbrass - Björk's all-female brass band come choir - stride on stage in full garish costume, flags protruding above their heads and 'Earth Intruders' jerky space march kicks off.

From the outset this is a full-on assault on the senses; a glorious excess of colour, light and of course that voice, which soars effortlessly over everything and everyone, always complimenting, never detracting from the music.

In her reflective rainbow patterned outfit, florescent forehead paint and headdress, Ms Gudmundsdottir skips and shimmies and twirls about the stage like a technicolor fairy, firing hundreds of tiny streamers from her fingertips into the crowd (how? we have no idea!) who respond with a spontaneous 'woooooo!' as if watching fireworks, which metaphorically we kind of are.

Tonight is not much a concert, more a hybrid of the West End version of the Lion King and full-on rave.

After 'Earth Intruders' opening salvo the mood calms beautifully to slow-paced gorgeousness, to coin a Björk-ism.

Two duets follow. Firstly with Anthony Hegarty - whose velvety croon brings 'The Dull Flame of Desire' to a slow burning crescendo - and then Malian musician Toumani Diabaté on the stunning 'Hope'.

Anyone sniffily inclined to turn their noses up at anything vaguely resembling 'world music' ought to see this guy play. Diabaté shuffles arthritically onto the stage but when he begins to pluck his kora's numerous strings those aging fingers become a lightning quick blur of dexterity and prowess. Only the mentally inert could possibly fail to be amazed.

Throughout, Björk leans heavily on her new material. The only tunes culled from 'Debut' and 'Post' are 'The Anchor Song', 'Hyperballad' (on which the crowd happily sing the first verse) and an almost techno version of 'Army of Me'.

The latter two songs end in a cacophony of hardcore, Daft Punk-style beats, strobes and lasers. Not to mention a bassline that rattles the scant change remaining in punters pockets after purchasing one of the Apollo's over-priced hotdogs and a beer.

'Pagan Poetry' is then perfectly, effortlessly dispatched, but we aren't fooled by the sweet smiles and cutesy 'thank yous' between songs; they belie the fact that this is 'New Politicised Björk'.

The night ends with a spectacular industrial version of 'Declare Independence'. At 42 years old Björk still has no intention of quietly avoiding confrontation or debate, recently bravely mouthing the words "Tibet, Tibet" when performing the song in Shanghai.

As glittering confetti is endlessly pumped into the air, the crowd responds to her screamed insistence to "Raise your flag!" with the required "Higher! Higher!" Wonderbrass surround her, dancing, removing their flags from their headdresses and thrust them into the air in unison (where was 'Unison' by the way? Its omission tonight is the only mild gripe).

It's a mind-blowing, synapse-shredding finale which leaves us to reflect on Björk's continuing refusal to conform or pursue any kind of musical direction that could be even remotely considered conventional; and this is why we love her.

She's well into her career and still a relevant global artist; utterly distinctive, unique, innovative and spellbinding. This is unequivocally art and executed live so dazzlingly as to be unforgettable.

Hyperbole, you say? Not a bit.

Chris Waugh

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