Bjork Brings Performance Art to the Palladium: Concert Review
(Sun. June 2, 2013)
Bjork brought her Biophilia tour to the Hollywood Palladium on Sunday night, the first of four tour stops in Los Angeles. But the performance, presented in the round on a low stage built in the center of the venue’s floor, felt less like a concert and more like an avant-guard theatre production.
Accompanied by 18 members of an Icelandic female choir, Bjork emerged after a lengthy male voiceover introduction explaining the premise behind her recent album Biophilia, which this trek objectively supports. The singer, clad in a massive rainbow wig that would make Nicki Minaj jealous, moved around the open stage as the set progressed, using the choir as both backup singers and a dancers in a primal choreographed art piece that was as much about presentation as it was about the songs themselves.
Bjork’s musicians, a harpist, a DJ and a percussionist, were illuminated by spotlights that shifted between each song depending on what sonics the track required, but all were overshadowed by the eventual introduction of unconventional instruments that required no player. During “Mutual Core,” a grinding number off Biophilia, four massive wooden pendulums attached to two pillars began to swing, but it wasn’t until the more hushed “Solstice” that it became clear that each pendulum, as it twists past the pillars, plucks a string to create a melody.
The presence of video screens, which rolled imagery that reflected the subject matter and tone of each song, and the stage choreography, best embodied by the deeply compelling performance of “Crystalline,” transformed the show into performance art. The center piece: the presentation of the stage itself, encircled by fans so that no space was left blank behind the musicians. It generated a drastically different energy than the straightforward concert, with the sounds moving throughout the room in new and interesting ways. The overall effect, amplified by Bjork herself, is what one imagines Lady Gaga wishes she could create, a truly innovative experience that recasts a singer’s music into an aesthetically interesting context that broadcasts and shifts its overarching meaning.
To wit: during the encore, a three song continuation of the dynamic performance, Bjork noted “We’ve been trying to squeeze this new toy into more songs,” gesturing toward a giant wire cage standing one side of the stage. As the closer surged from “Possibly Maybe” to the overwhelming buoyance of “Declare Independence,” it became clear that this “toy” is a mechanism that generates two vertical bolts of purple electricity that create a crackling sound as they connect.
The music itself was so integrated and connected to this visual and spatial experience that it almost didn’t matter which songs Bjork selected for the set list. Although older numbers like “Pagan Poetry” and “Jóga” drew shrieks of “I love you, Bjork!” from the audience, the focus on Biophilia felt right, particularly since that album has been a platform for multimedia exploration on the part of the singer and produced its own app and the Biophilia Education Program, which is a traveling series of interactive workshops.
The singer said very little throughout the night, only chirping “Thank you” after various songs, but expression came through her surging, operatic vocals, which drove the music even as lightening crackled in a cage and pendulums swung.
Bjork has translated her strange and occasionally difficult music into an overwhelmingly interesting stage set-up that presents a unique twist on what a pop show can be. True, Bjork worries less -- or not at all -- about what the audience wants and creates only a reflection of her own artistic sensibility, but what she does provide is a fully immersive experience, leaving no real sense of loss for the lack of so-called hits on the set list.
Where Is the Line?