Performance as therapy on a grand scale: Björk live
‘Will you be dancing?’ the man in front asks his friend before the lights go down. ‘Most likely,’ she says. Two songs in and it’s looking less and less likely.
The world’s best-known Icelander is fronting a 27-piece chamber orchestra in a strings-only performance of songs from her last album (not her most toe-tapping collection). It feels like hard work. Lyrically, Vulnicura (Greek for ‘cure for wounds’) is a blow-by-blow account of her split with long-term partner Matthew Barney. Musically, anything resembling a good tune is hard to find.
Each verse of ‘Black Lake’, the album’s mournful centrepiece, ends in a wavering monotone that fades to silence. Watching conductor Andrew Gourlay’s hands is the only way to tell if the song is over or not. Inevitably, we miss a cue and applaud just as the anguished tale starts up again.
And what anguish. Björk does not lament her lost love with hints and allusions like Dylan in Blood on the Tracks or Joni Mitchell in Blue. Her words are raw and bleeding. ‘My soul torn apart/ My spirit is broken,’ she sings, face part-hidden by a feathered mask. It must help to wear a mask as you pour your broken heart out in front of 5,000 people.
This article first appeared in The Spectator magazine on October 1, 2016. It is also online HERE