Live Music + Gig Reviews

Björk + Matmos @ Coliseum, London

23 September 2001

Björk Everybody’s favourite Icelandic pixie was in town for the second time in a month, this time easily selling out London’s largest theatre which is normally home to the English National Opera. Bonkers American electronics partners Matmos were on hand as the support, enlisting instruments as diverse as hamster cages and balloons to tip their blend of synth music just over the edge into avant-garde, accompanied by a micro-camera’s depictions of mucous membranes, ear holes and such like which were displayed on a projector screen backdrop for all to see and admire.

When the lady we’d all come to see appeared it was to inevitably rapturous applause. She bubbled and skipped above a full orchestra in the pit and in front of an all-female Innuit choir, a multi-instrumentalist whose talents included harp, Matmos and a Canadian lady who vocalised reverse recording better than anyone I’ve heard save JC-001. Björk herself was dressed in a black feathery affair around the waist, sequins of many colours decorating her top and with tights, topped with vertical black lines, which accentuated her endearingly childlike shape. The effect was a startling parody of the evil swan from Swan Lake.

The first of two performance segments offered up much of new album Vespertine, starting with music box instrumental track Frosti before launching into Overture from Selmasongs, the soundtrack to the Lars von Trier film Dancer In The Dark. Björk won awards for her acting in the film, starring opposite Catherine Deneuve. We were treated to I’ve Seen It All from the soundtrack as well, but whilst on the recording she duetted with Radiohead‘s Thom Yorke, here she sang the entire song herself.

The wonderful Cocoon from Vespertine featured one member of Matmos literally stroking the other while Björk softly sang about the physical intimacy of love, of having her man “inside of me”. Heirloom (co-written with Matmos) followed, then came It’s Not Up To You, Undo, Aurora and Pagan Poetry, the latter transfixing the audience with the sheer power of Björk’s justly legendary vocal talents. She began to tell the assembled of London how emotional she felt in this “town”, but that would mean that she would “go all super-mooshy” and she was better at singing than speaking anyway. A throwaway couple of lines she’d uttered and the audience wanted to hug her. The first ‘act’ ended with the superb Unison, the final and best track from Vespertine, which built from an almost silly electronic melody to feature the choir and the orchestra to beautiful effect.

On returning from the bar we were greeted to recent single Hidden Place. Ms Godmundsdottir had changed her cossie, this time resplendent in a red number, reputedly from Alexander McQueen, which made her look like a Christmas decoration. Every time she moved we heard bells – yet it took a while for us to realise that the bells were part of the dress. Someone seemed to have stolen the bassline from Hidden Place and it was not as electrifying as on the album, but mild disappointment with that was tempered immediately by what amounted to a performance of crowd-pleasing oldies, including dramatic single Bachelorette, from Homogenic, a new version of Possibly Maybe, from Post, featuring the choir, the wonderful Hyper-ballad from the same album which had everyone chairdancing to the modified backing from Matmos, You’ve Been Flirting Again and Isobel (both also from Post) and Joga from Homogenic.

Skipping across the stage and curtseying her way off, the audience were charmed enough to demand two encores. These included the only offering from Debut, Human Behaviour, and the fiercely rhythmic Army Of Me from Homogenic. She finished up with a new song, It’s All In The Hands, which featured the majority of humanity in The Coliseum clapping along with the Innuit choir in the correct places despite having never heard the song before.

One or two oddities aside (these being Björk’s forgetting of the first verse lyrics in Bachelorette, the microphone that wouldn’t decide whether it wanted to be on or off for Frosti and the largely criminal lighting), this was an accomplished performance by a supremely gifted and endearing lady. She manages to remain entirely at the cutting edge of her art while collaborating with anyone she chooses to produce music that the mainstream embrace. It’s a shame she’s not back on stage tomorrow, for I’d surely go see her again then. Come back to London soon Björk, we love you.

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