Björk Plays With Mike Patton and a Lightning-Bolt Synth in Richmond, 5/28/13
Paige Parsons Bjork in Richmond.
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Craneway Pavilion, Richmond
Better than: Any other lesson in plate tectonics.
Here is Björk in her rainbow cotton-candy chinstrap wig and sparkling silver bubble dress, not so much clapping as slamming her tiny hands together with infantile glee. If it's possible to clap with an Icelandic accent -- adorable and naive and precocious -- that is what Björk is doing. This is the last night of her three-show residency at this cavernous waterfront warehouse in Richmond, and Björk is really feeling the climax of "Crystalline" -- the part where she stops singing and lets drummer Manu Delago go all Squarepusher on his drum pads, playing faster than you knew human arms could play.
Ostensibly this Biophilia concert is a lecture on the miraculousness of nature, technology, and music -- or at least that's what the announcer from Planet Earth told us through the P.A. before things got started. But for those (many) of us who were unaffected by the Icelandic singer's latest tech experiment-as-album, this is really a chance to hear those songs in a more human light.
In that regard, it's a remarkable success. Even in her comical stage getup, Björk is emphatically human. The central element in all of these songs is her voice, which soars and bends elliptically, and treats the huge Icelandic choir sharing the stage as an extension of itself. Her singing overcomes all of the machines, the costumes, the odd 360-degree stage setup. And then there are the percussive rhythms courtesy of Delago, another equally primal, equally relatable element that anchors all of tonight's best new songs: "Crystalline," "Nattura," and "Virus," to name a few.
Elsewhere things get a more familiar, a little less abstract: Bjork brings out Mike Patton to beatbox on "Where Is the Line" -- she seems thrilled and he seems sinister -- and delivers a few crowd-pleasers like "Pagan Poetry," whose opening notes get big cheers from the room
But the focus here is on Biophilia. The show is basically a really exciting science class, with lots of dazzling movies playing on screens above the stage and toys on the central platform itself. The best of these toys came during "Thunderbolt," where Björk sang accompanied by a contraption straight out of the dungeon of Tesla (the electricity pioneer, not the car company or the band): A cage of steel containing two coils that spat bright, sinister-looking bolts of lighting, bolts that sent similarly sinister synth-like blurts through the room. Later, during the climax of the night, massive pendulums swing ominously onstage. And on "Virus," the screens show the slow death of a cell at the hands of one of a said invader -- a sublime biology lesson.
Björk wants us to be enthralled by these natural facts as she is. Her songs, like "Mutual Core," use the natural world as a metaphor for the human predicament. Through the distance of a recorded pop album, that inventiveness doesn't always come across forcefully, and even when it does, her ideas can be too grandiose. But live onstage, Björk -- in her rainbow wig and bubble dress and with her choir and battery of high-tech toys -- actually does evoke a fascinating nexus where humanity, technology, and nature overlap. Often, as she reminded us last night, she even finds some good music there.
Most adorable moment: After "Thunderbolt," Bjork said the cutest words ever: "Thank you the area of the Bay!" Yes, she really called it, "The area of the Bay," and we might start doing that, too.
Seating: You could sit in bleachers on either side of the stage. We chose the far side, which proved to be wise: Björk spent most of the show facing us. So much, in fact, that we felt a little bad for those sitting on the other side.