Alexandra Palace, London
Music review: Björk's crystalline performance is beautifully quirky
On the top of a hill, far, far into north London, sits Alexandra Palace. Built as a temple to public education and entertainment, it became the first BBC Television headquarters. It's the perfect venue for Björk’s last live performance of Biophilia, the 2011 album at the centre of a ground-breaking multimedia concept of apps, installations and live performances.
Ruminating on the relationship between nature, music, and technology, the stage is set with pendulums swinging to the earth’s rhythm, a tesla coil that zaps out the sound of electric charge on certain tracks, and an elemental all-female choir, dressed in earthy gold satin and ocean blue sequins. Björk channels the concept beautifully, quirkily in a neon-dusted cloud of a wig and a dress made from what looks like laminated wool.
Her look is backed up by her vocals. The jagged lyrics of "Crystalline", a song about crystals and skyscrapers, morphs into machine gun bullet beat drum ’n’ bass, with the all-girl choir getting rowdy, turning the stage into the kind of uber-cool warehouse party you might hope to stumble upon on a night out in Reykjavik.
From the astral vocals and twinkling harp of "Moon" to "Hidden Places", which sounds like the sweeping majesty of the forest, the set covers all corners of the universe, guided by hypnotic visuals of galaxies, bugs and cells. The truly remarkable thing is how it loops these wide-ranging themes into human experience, as with "Virus", which tells the story of a virus loving a cell so much that it attacks and kills it.
The stage is in 'the round', with the audience sat on all four sides. At points, this gives space for Björk’s dynamic presence to breathe, complemented by the screens beaming down and the choir filling the gaps. But at others, you feel you’re missing the action, trying glimpse her as she sings to the other side of the hall.
In a venue that was home to one of the last century’s greatest technological advancements, with the colossal TV mast on the roof to prove it, Björk taps away on a small black screen that has changed the world comparably. Having toured with Biophilia for two years, you get a sense of the breakneck pace of current change: in ways, the iPad has already been superseded.
All the same, the performance is awe-inspiring in its ambition and execution, and leaving the venue, the city below looks somehow different, like a rain sodden cobweb, a distant galaxy or the mulch on the forest floor, perhaps. If you judge music on its ability to change our view of the world, there’s surely no greater compliment.
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