Hyperactive human behaviour

Bjork bounces, wiggles and flaps. She sings like a gymnast, dances like a pencil. What's she after? Nick Coleman went to Sheffield Arena to find out

Between encores, a young man at the end of the row became suddenly animated. "She's great, isn't she?" he beamed to his scribbling neighbour. "Don't know why but I think she's really, really good. Are you writing that she's really good? She is good, isn't she?"

On the bus back into town, a couple in their thirties discussed their evening.

"I can tell," said the woman knowingly, not unkindly. "You didn't really like it, did you?"

"No... ye-e-es... well, it was all right," he agonised. "I like her. I liked it. I just didn't know all the songs, and the ones I did know were different. It wasn't exactly classic, though, was it? I mean, not classic."

Bjork divides pop consumers unevenly and inconclusively. You get the sense that there are as many shades of feeling about her as there are categories of pop taste; probably more. And people seem to enjoy the confusion. In pop, where knowing what you like is nine-tenths of the law, she stands for delight in irresolution; which is another way of saying that Bjork, against all the rules of pop star/audience engagement, permits her audience to be spontaneous.

She materialised rather off-handedly towards the end of the Brodsky Quartet's support set and joined in. They did "Hyper-ballad" together with much sawing of limbs and bows, anchored like a hydra in a blue-white spot.

"Hyper-ballad" is an extraordinary song about uncertainty, cliffs and household rubbish, set early in the morning. You can't sing it by doing the emotions, like Janis Joplin, say, because there are no emotions in the song (which is not to say that the song has no emotional impact); nor by interpreting it sensitively with your elbows in and whiskers out, like a proper singer-songwriter, because there is nothing in the song to be interpreted as such. The song expresses abstract feelings by describing exterior phenomena in narrative suspension from their familiar contexts; more like a surrealist painting than a song, in fact. What Bjork did was sing "Hyper-ballad" in recitative style, pressing her voice up hard against the Brodskys' chuntering beat, snapping from interval to interval like a gymnast on parallel bars. It was a brilliant exhibition executed with thrilling, stark accuracy. When she said "sank yoo" at the end, large numbers of people giggled.

From the earliest stages, then, this was a recital, not a pop concert. As the string quartet dispersed into the wings, Bjork herself hung to one side, knuckle to chin, while the stage undressed to reveal a sort of techno-organic play park, decorated with mummified trees, speakers on stalks and tubular coils where you'd expect to see amplifiers - the set for a post-apocalyptic Magic Roundabout in which Florence takes her shoes off and Zebedee plays electric marimba.

A tiny handful of musicians fringed the space, including a lady accordionist on a chair who played infrequently but smiled a lot. The instrumentation in turn fringed Bjork, who bounced up and down her stage promontory, flapping incontinently. She did "Isobel", "Army of Me", "Human Behaviour", "Venus As a Boy", "Enjoy" in various states of restrained musical motley, low- frequency bass rumbling in phase from speakers sited in all four corners of the arena, harpsichord arpeggios rippling in sonic correspondence with Bjork's fingers, which splayed and wiggled as pathologically as a one- year-old's. "I'm so impa-tient ...When do I get my cud-dle?" she sang in "I Miss You" with startling passion.

The entire show is carried visually by Bjork's ability to show off. Nothing happens at all otherwise. And given that all she does is stick her belly out and charge around acting the goat, then it's remarkable that what comes over is a clear exposition of major themes: being cuddled, feeling safe, having space to call your own, having the freedom to imagine that your own space can stand for the whole world - themes animated with such clarity that at points it seemed reasonable to suppose that the entire arena was happily considering what it must be like to have a small daughter, or even what it must be like to be a small daughter.

The show climaxed with "Violently Happy", a pell-mell techno-hymn in which Bjork formed a stubby pencil shape and bounced herself silly, and "It's Oh So Quiet", which was shrill and done without horns, so it didn't swing. The entire assembly still contrived gleefully to go "shhh" at the end, however.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all