Bjork, Manchester International Festival, review: Set pays homage to artist's eclectic nature

It’s intensely visual and multi-sense stimulating whilst remaining consistently challenging and progressive musically

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The Independent Culture

Before Bjork even sets foot on stage it is already filled with bodies and colour. The orchestra members walk out to take their seats, each of them dressed head-to-toe in gleaming white. Behind them are two musicians, one on an electronic drum kit and the other, Bjork’s recent collaborator and co-producer the Haxan Cloak, responsible for beats and electronics.

She sprints out onto the stage dressed as a Day-Glo butterfly, her face mostly covered with a mask that resembles a traditional Mexican wrestler. She bounds and races around, greatly resembling the creature itself, all fluttering wings, moving wildly but gracefully.

Opening with “Stonemilker” the opening track from her most recent, and heart-breaking, record Vulnicura the tone is instantly sombre yet grand as the strings wail out in soaring unison, floating on top of an undercurrent of fractured, bass-driven, electronics and stark drums. Bjork’s voice sails through the air, delivering her most recent material with a mighty strength and force but also allowing the pain and anguish – of which said material was based on – to come bubbling to the surface, compellingly.

Striking visuals depict her heart being stitched back together again after clearly being ripped in half and there are plentiful moments throughout the night in which the personal pain this artist went through during her breakup are almost uncomfortably palpable. However, this doesn’t feel like a wallowing, more an expulsion, a gigantic exercise in release.

The relationship between the strings and the thumping electronics are both harmonious and fractious and they work all the better because of their opposing sonic traits. The tone can shift from refrained, plaintive tenderness to surging, engulfing electronica and does so frequently. Midway through the set fireworks begin to rocket into the sky from behind the stage, initially blue and then red, shooting off huge clouds of thick smoke that hang in the air, consuming all the on-looking balcony watchers in the neighbouring residential flats in the process. The crowd’s heads turn and a back and forth waving session ensues as Bjork too waves at the groups all cloaked in a thick red haze.

Older material is cherry picked alongside the more recent material, with a trilogy of “Where is the Line” “Army of Me” and “5 Years” creating a formidable highlight. “Army of Me”, despite its twenty-year plus age, still rattles and hums with vibrancy and sends the crowd into a frenzy. The encore is a ferocious and rave-like version of “Hyperballad”, which sounds as huge and thundering as the fireworks that take off and explode above the stage. All the while Bjork charges around as fireballs shoot out from the stage and intense strobe lights flicker intensely. It’s a set that pays homage to the eclectic nature of Bjork as an artist as a whole, it’s intensely visual and multi-sense stimulating whilst remaining consistently challenging and progressive musically.  It’s all further proof that there really is nobody else like Bjork.