Better than: Dissecting a pig.
It was science class last night as Björk performed her nature-based production Biophilia for a relatively-intimate crowd at the Hollywood Palladium. (She plays the Bowl on Tuesday.) With the show, the Icelandic icon and artist's artist demonstrated that science and the natural world are sensual, feminine, and, much like Björk herself, possessing properties both delicate and powerful.
This was Björk's second of three nights in Los Angeles performing the theater in the round production, based on her 2011 album of the same name. This homage to nature, as she told the Weekly, is her version of an opera and her attempt to “bow to nature” with a fusion of science, technology and art.
The show was a multisensory spectacle, sophisticated, playful, and inventive. It primarily featured songs from Biophilia, with a handful of hits sprinkled in throughout. The evening was more theater than concert, as Björk and her 16 member female choir played on a circular stage, also populated by a harp, a pipe organ, a Tesla Coil and other innovative instruments built especially for the show. It also relied heavily on iPad generated sounds. (Biophilia was released with a suite of custom apps conceived by Björk herself.)
The performance began just after 8:30pm with a recorded introduction by the show's narrator, Richard Attenborough, an actor whose work has often dipped into the realm of the natural world. A cheer rose from back of the crowd as Björk appeared, the spotlights catching the top of her wild untamed purple and green wig as she made her way to the stage.
Wearing a sparkly silver and purple knee length dress with a long purple cape attached, she began the show with the sparse, moody “Thunderbolt,” the bass line for which was provided by the Tesla coil hanging from the ceiling. This iconic object of science history juxtaposed against the delicacy of the intricately harmonized (and barefoot) chorus.
The show's visual element was enhanced by the eight screens hanging above the stage in a circle, each with projections on both side so the imagery could be seen from a variety of angles. This visual production's displays ranging from the phases of the moon to the slow invasion of a cell by a virus (during, of course, “Virus”). Even that had an artful grace.
The show touched on everything from space (“Dark Matter” “Cosmogony”) to shifting Tectonic plates (“Mutual Core”) to the fantastical processes happening inside the human body. What Biophilia demonstrated is that all of these things are essentially part of the same system. Humans are a part of nature as much as the Earth and the stars. Love is science as much as the formation of minerals is science. Even older songs that were woven into the set took on new meaning: “Emotional landscapes” were of both the interior and exterior variety. The “state of emergency” referenced in “Joga” suggest both personal passion and a climate in peril. Without outright political messaging, Björk emphasized that the sanctity and godliness of the natural world, and ourselves within it, are one in the same.
And perhaps this is the beauty of Biophilia, that through its synthesis of technology, art and science, it shows us who we are. There is much lamentation that the field of science is lacking in women. Björk's look at the natural world, however, is utterly feminine, and makes science and nature more understandable than a textbook.
Björk said little during the performance aside from a staccatoed and charmingly accented “thank you!” after each song. Her voice is like no one else's, and the woman can wail, her face distorting as she hit the climaxes and whispered the soft parts. She played to each side of the stage, and when her back was turned you could focus on the visual production, alternating between abstract visual lullabies and Earth and space traversing action shots.
In addition the choir, the show also featured a live harpist, a guy manning the laptops and keyboards and a percussionist whose contributions were vital to many moments of cacophony. The performance lasted nearly two hours; it was dramatic and also playful, with Björk doing a number of charmingly quirky dances and the choir doing loosely choreographed dancing during songs including “Crystalline,” with their glittery gold and blue sack-like hooded dresses catching the light as dreamy faraway looks played on their faces.
The set ended with after a stunning rendition of “Mutual Core” and the lovely “Solstice,” with Björk maintaining: “you, yourself, you are a light-bearer.” It was a mainlining of imagination, a triumph of creativity that left a room full of adults with looks of wonder on their faces.
“Thanks for tonight!” Björk shouted as she left the stage and the crowd rose for a standing ovation, cheering, clapping and stomping until she returned, with the choir, for the love song “Possibly Maybe” from '90s classic Post, Biophilia's “Náttúra” and, finally, a massively energized rendition of Volta's “Declare Independence” for which Björk asked the audience stand as she and the choir led the punk power anthem. “Declare independence! Don't let them do DO that to you!” she shouted/sang as the Tesla coil sparked the song's fuzzy bass line. “Raise your own flag!” she demanded as the choir and the audience in unison shouted “higher! higher!” and everyone danced along.
More science classes should be taught this way.
Overheard in the crowd: “It's the anthropomorphization of music.” and “I can't wait to start working on my Björk impression!”
Random notebook dump: “perpetual goosebumps/spontaneous crying”
The set list is below