Bjork at the Nokia Theater, December 12
By Randall Roberts
Last night’s Bjork show at the Dystopia – er, I mean Nokia — Theatre downtown didn’t really start to make sense to me until afterward, when some friends and I ended up at the Pacific Dining Car – “an elegant place to hide” — on 6th Street downtown, for some Swiss eggs, which were exquisitely creamy, and martinis, made with gin and two olives. The place, if you’ve never been there, is big, with many rooms and many tables, and has the vibe of a pre-WWII-era rail car (think Strangers on a Train). Eating and sipping and laughing, it felt as though we were celebrating a journey we had all taken together, returning home via railcar after a visit to the future, where we saw a performance featuring an elegantly odd lady dressed in sparkly future fashion. This apparition appeared with her 10-piece Lucia Pamela-style all female brass band, and four men playing crazy techno-delic instruments. It was as though we were celebrating the presentation of a collection of ideas, and colors, and, above all, sounds, unimaginable where we were from, like we were witnessing some some weird ritual. Even down to her name: Bjork.
Dressed in an outfit that my grandpa would have laughed about from now till sundown – some fluffy shiny winged-thing – and wearing a golden headband that sprayed sparkles every time she shook her head (like pixies sneezing?), Bjork the future lady appeared only after her brass band, dressed in baggy red clown-type get-ups (red flags sprouted from their backbones and floated above their heads), marched in procession onto stage and introduced Her with much blurting and bleeting. (Three trombones! Two French horns! A tuba! And partridge in a pair tree!). The crowd, a collection of many different Caucasion varieties, from Nordic to Teutonic to American, British and French, spanned generations. Wood nymphs, New Agers, Renaissance Fairies, empowered former grrls, some womyn, even a few hipster grandmas, lavished the fair maiden with appreciation, all joined by a shared understanding of the power of beauty. Many testosterone-deprived men mumbled along, half drowning in Nokia’s collected estrogen, and cheered just as loudly as the females when Bjork began with “Anchor Song.” “I live by the ocean,” she sang, “And during the night … I dive into it …. Down to the bottom.” And so we traveled with her, down, down, down.
Photos by Timothy Norris
At the bottom, two men created bubbles and bursts of obnoxious beats and nutty rhythms on electronic equipment that appeared to be beamed from 2525. Flashing handheld devices bleeped and burped. Some of the deepest beats, like during “Hunter,” were so subharmonic that they made my eyeballs jiggle in their sockets. (I swear my sinuses felt great this morning.) Bjork’s singular voice swam among these beats, moving from octave to octave with the aplomb of a music critic gliding from metaphor to metaphor, Bjork now skating on the frozen ocean in perfect figure-eights, her voice as strong and seductive as ever, petulant, tempestuous, ridunkulous. “Earth Intruders,” with its marching rhythm and insistent progression, sounded like robots walking in formation, and Bjork barked her announcements: “Metallic carnage! Ferocity! Feel the speed! We are the earth intruders! We are the sharpshooters! Flock of the parashooters! Necessary voodoo!” (Wait, isn’t that a Judas Priest song?)
There were some lulls. When Bjork gets softer and more abstract, her melodies seem to drift away, her voice wanders aimlessly, unable to quell its desire to stretch and showcase with the need for restraint and at least some semblance of structure. Boring critical qualifications aside, though, Bjork the artist is a force of nature. Anyone able to harness so much human energy – all those players, all that glitter, all those contraptions, the animal banners, the strobes – well, hooray for imagination.
At its pre-encore climax, Bjork and band leapt into “Pluto,” and all hell broke loose. The brass band blew til their cheeks ached, Bjork's longtime music collaborator Mark Bell drove jumbo static beats into our skulls. Even the piano player, an odd looking duck who seemed shipped in from a Vegas lounge, was bobbing his head with the beat. The brass band danced and danced, rejoicing with the rhythm, acting as though a new Nymphette Queen had just been anointed. There was so much stuff going on at that peak — confetti twinkling as it floated through the green lasers, strobes, noise, energy, electricity and a bunch of shit that I’m still trying to make sense of — that I think the accumulated sparkle forged a real life emerald in my brain. At that climactic moment, even the non-sequitur flags that hung as a backdrop – banners with drawings of fish, frogs, birds, alligators – made sense.
Well, no, those still don’t make any sense. None of it made much sense, actually. Not a lick of sense. It just appeared, we experienced it and then it went away. And maybe that’s why we had so much fun on the fantasy train ride home. We knew we had seen something awesome, and whether it made any sense or was pure jibberish, it was real, it was something, and it made us happy.
All photos by Timothy Norris