When Björk sang “I’ve Seen It All” as the second number of her sold-out Friday concert at Piers 30 and 32, she was being coy. The song title should have been “You Haven’t Seen Anything Yet”—because the number that followed, “Jóga,” qualified as one of the most delightfully mind-blowing pop spectacles of the year.
Boats cruising the Bay sped shoreward to watch as the sky exploded into an umbrella of red and white fireworks. Muni passengers riding along the Embarcadero flattened their faces to train windows to stare as giant torches flared in time to a thundering digital beat. Cops trying to wave away the gawking boaters paused to gawk themselves when one of the “trees” lining the waterfront burst into flames and began twirling like a ballerina on pointe.
Caught in the middle, thousands of adult concert-goers suddenly found themselves reduced to primitive glee as they screamed, laughed and whooped like kids on the ultimate musical roller-coaster ride.
Suffice to say that few rock concerts reach the theatrical heights of Björk’s San Francisco waterfront extravaganza. Even more incredible, the music matched—and at times surpassed—the pyrotechnics. The result was a magical 80-minute show that elegantly combined orchestral movements with experimental dance tracks and hushed simplicity with flamboyant performance.
In her decade as a solo artist, Björk has created a body of music ranging from pop and show tunes to the most avant-garde club collages. The Icelandic diva’s whimsical artistry has reached its apex with her latest tour, which manages to be quixotic, ground-breaking and thoroughly charming at the same time. The full orchestra and choir of her 2001 tour have been pared down to electric harpist Zeena Parkins, the Icelandic String Octet and Björk’s longtime collaborators, San Francisco sound duo Matmos (Martin Schmidt and Drew Daniel).
The altered lineup still sounds lush and emphasizes the interplay between traditional and digital instrumentation.
After opening sets by Matthew Herbert’s Big Band and Bonnie Prince Billy (Will Oldham), Björk opened quietly with the sensually meditative “Unravel.” Three songs later, after the smoke had cleared from the “Jóga” fireworks display, she joined Parkins for a beautifully spare harpsichord-and-voice rendering of “Síðasta Ég,” sung in Icelandic. They reprised their collaboration during the encore with a duet of “Generous Palmstroke.”
Looking like an elfin Teletubby in her billowing white jumpsuit, the singer exuded an ebullient, childlike energy as she skipped and danced across the stage during “The Hunter” and “5 Years.” The string section supplied melodic counterpoint on songs such as “Pagan Poetry” as Björk moved from growling whispers to crescendoing wails. When she wasn’t using her voice for dramatic effect, she hit and held crystalline notes that would have incited standing ovations had the crowd not already been up and dancing.
Matmos supplied a remarkable range of beats and sound effects, including some aural highlights familiar from the 2001 tour. Schmidt trod through an amplified pan of artificial snow to create the crunching percussion of the otherworldly “Aurora” ; later, he ran a hand microphone over Daniel’s head and neck to accentuate the tactile sensuality of “Cocoon.” Starting with an extended dance remix of “Hyperballad,” Björk spent the concert’s second half transforming the pier parking lots into a huge rave as fireworks lit the sky intermittently for an electro mix of “It’s in Our Hands.” She pulled out all stops for “Pluto” and “Human Behavior,” both of them frenzied pastiches of looping beats and melodies, whirling lights, flaming torches and a storm of colorful overhead explosions.
Many arrived at Friday’s concert wondering how Björk could top her near—perfect Paramount concert of two years ago. Judging from the number of wide eyes and loopy grins on fans’ faces as they exited, they got their answer. The pop world’s eccentric dancing queen topped herself by putting on a show as strange, beautiful and playfully joyous as herself.