Live Report: Björk's O2 Arena Show Went Beyond Words

Live Report: Björk's O2 Arena Show Went Beyond Words

It's a bold triumph from the Icelandic aesthete...

Björk’s creative vision has always tended towards the unknown. Right from childhood she has surged into the unexpected, grappled with the new – it’s there at every point in her career, and (if anything) this has strengthened and deepened in line with her experiences.

There are points, though, in her outstanding, bewildering, completely inspired show at London’s O2 Arena where it simply goes beyond words. Perhaps it’s the sight of this diminutive Icelandic vocalist completely usurping some of the finest moments in her catalogue, or perhaps it’s the phenomenal stage setting… or perhaps it’s just Björk, endlessly reaching towards aesthetics undefined, and themes uncertain. Whatever it is, it’s a jaw-dropping experience, an unrelenting cavalcade of vital innovation.

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It actually begins in the most pleasingly humble way possible. Foregoing a flashy hype-driven support artist, Björk invites the Reykjavik based Hamrahlid Choir to perform, and their innocence seems to cleanse the O2, acting as a form of incantation for what is to follow.

Opening with the flute section who were so evocative on 2017’s ‘Utopia’ full length, it begins as a pastoral experience, the effervescent melodics of ‘The Gate’ and ‘Arisen My Senses’ seeming to bring out fresh feeling in Björk’s vocal.

The set leans towards the 2017 project, and it’s definitions allow her to overhaul her past. ‘Venus As A Boy’ is little more than voice and flute, a daring take on the original that forces you to re-examine Björk’s stunning vocal, pulling apart the song until it is little more than guttural feeling.

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But it’s not a show that allows itself to settle into one mood. There’s a continual these of disruption running through the evening, ranging from shifts in lighting and imagery onstage to Björk’s surreal, fun, and whimsical stay in a literal Echo Chamber on the side of the stage.

‘Isobel’ is given a metallic, cathartic overhaul, while a buoyant, playful ‘Blissing Me’ finds a percussionist playing what looks to be a series of basketballs, cut in half, bobbing up and down in a pool of water. Departing to the Echo Chamber for a flute solo, Björk allows a message to be beamed to the stage, an urgent plea for unity and social action in the face of climate change.

It leads to a more intense feeling onstage, her return echoed by the dense imagery – a male figure plummeting into the depths of the ocean, a melding together of species and mythology that feels half-Icarus and half-octopus. Amid pile-driving drums Björk screams the central chant from ‘Pagan Poetry’, her words fuelled by obsession and loss: “I love him, I love him, I love him, I love him…”

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Ending with ‘Tabula Rasa’ she makes a rare address to the crowd – “Thanks for tonight London, I love you!” – before departing, the lights falling around here. A message from Greta Thunberg is then playing, the climate change activist typically unrelenting in her pleas, before Björk returns for a searing performance of ‘Future Forever’.

Speaking to the crowd, her voice audibly shakes, the emotion clearly tumbling from her every pore. Labelling London her “second home” she plunges into a valedictory ‘Notget’ and it’s distillation of “abstract complex feeling”:

I refuse, it's a sign of maturity
To be stuck in complexity
I demand all clarity

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Meticulously planned, wonderfully executed, Björk’s O2 Arena show seemed underline the creative confluents that have fuelled her over the past decade. The utilisation of organic instrumentation – those gorgeous flutes – the combination of the classical and the unexpected, and the commitment to sheer, absolute emotional honesty; at moments, the sheer, pin-drop silence in the crowd was telling.

Tonight, Björk spoke her truth.

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Photo Credit: Santiago Felipe

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