It was more of a visitation by a barefoot nymph than a grand entrance by a pop singer whose show had been sold out weeks in advance. With a swan’s head draped over the shoulder of her white sequined frock, Björk serenaded a capacity audience at Chicago’s Civic Opera House on Sunday night with a wordless lullaby played on a children’s music box while feathers floated from above. She spent the next hour exploring the relatively hushed contours of her latest album, Vespertine.
Computer duo Matmos ventured into a nether world of clicks, hisses and purrs instead of dance beats, while Zeena Parkins’ cascading harp, an eleven-voice choir and a fifty-four-piece orchestra bathed Björk in treble—the celestial frequencies in the upper end of the sound spectrum. The tiny singer’s big voice played in the clouds, so intent on promoting intimacy that on “Cocoon” it consisted of little more than her amplified breathing.
The old Björk moxie resurfaced on “Joga,” as she went toe-to-toe with the orchestra, and dominated the show’s second half. A new crimson outfit jangled as the singer skipped and danced to Matmos’ more strident rhythms. Parkins’ electronic harp—which sounded like a cross between a sitar and a slide guitar —gave “Army of Me” fresh urgency. The singer growled playfully on “Human Behavior,” roared with lusty affirmation on “Pagan Poetry” and blasted through the anxiety of “Hyper-Ballad.”
The closing song, a new uptempo track built on joyous hand-clap rhythms, even got the staid choir grooving, Temptations style. An evening that began in surreal solitude ended with crashing cymbals and Björk punching the air, smiling at the chaos.