Björk’s Cornucopia is Complex Theater: “Your city is CRAZY,” Icelandic songstress Björk told Los Angeles’s Shrine Auditorium just prior to performing the last song of the night (“Notget” from 2015’s Vulnicura album). The general consensus from the crowd was, “fair enough,” despite the fact that the person making the claim once draped herself in a swan for the Oscars.
We kid, of course. In last week’s cover feature, we called Björk “one of music’s great mercurial talents.” The joy of the artist is that, from one project to the next, you don’t really know what you’re going to get. You might not always like her new album, but you know that it’s going to be worth the effort because, worst case scenario, it’ll be interesting.
That said, the massive break in the Cornucopia tour for obvious reasons means that this high-concept theatrical performance made its debut nearly three years ago, in April 2019. Pictures of the gorgeous costumes and set designs have been circulating for the entirety of that time, as have the (barely shifting) set lists. Going in, it’s tempting to think that, for once, we knew what Björk has in store for us. Wrong!
“It was trying not to focus on aggression and destruction, which in my case was Vulnicura, the album I did before,” Björk told us. “How do you build again a new world, and how do you keep the hope up? The songs approach the subject matter from very different angles, but obviously when you do an album you always write it first and then afterwards say that the songs are very different. But if there’s something that unites all of them, you usually don’t figure it out until they’re all finished.”
There’s simply no way to do the enveloping effects of Cornucopia justice with the written word, but we can try. Any phone-captured videos (wisely discouraged here) doing the rounds won’t do the trick either. You have to see it in its full glory. Because it’s the way that everything works in cohesion that makes the show what it is. It’s the choir and the wind instruments. The digital images which blend the futuristic with the organic. Flowers pulse, seem to become humanoid then flower and again then, oh shit, something else is happening. It feels like DNA strands are moving around Björk, while flautists dance like Pan. It’s as if the residents of Narnia were in The Lawnmower Man. But better. Because it’s very Earth-based, and very real.
Most of the songs are pulled from 2017’s Utopia; the oldest songs in the set are “Venus as a Boy” and “Isobel” from the Debut and Post albums, with two (“Hidden Place” and “Pagan Poetry”) from 2001’s minimalist Vespertine album. But those have been carefully chosen to fit alongside the themes of Utopia, rearranged where necessary. “Venus as a Boy,” for example, is performed with just the one flautist and it sounds other-worldly.
She’s joined by experimental soul artist Serpentwithfeet for one of the musical highlights of the set — a hair-raising “Blissing Me.” She gets all fired up on “Sue Me.” But it feels redundant to pick out tracks because, again, this is show that needs to be experienced as a whole.
A welcome speech by Greta Thunberg before the encores, about change needing to happen now if we’re going to leave a world in decent shape for future generations, hammers home the themes of Cornucopia. At the same time, by that point everyone in attendance should be tuned in. Cornucopia, and Utopia, is about a synchronization of nature and new technology. It’s about change needing to happen, and being aware that the young people are going to make it happen. Everyone else just needs to get out of the way.
Björk’s Cornucopia is Complex Theater: Björk performs two further dates on Saturday, January 29 and Tuesday, February 1 at the Shrine Auditorium.