With purple lightning bolts of electricity jagging toward one another in a steel cage center-stage, powerful pipes that reverberated through the pavilion and rippled out onto the sea, and a fuzzy Snow Cone wig of every color -- cherry red, orange, lime green -- Björk seemed like the mad scientist of the natural world last night at the relatively intimate Craneway in Richmond, Calif.
She also thanked the audience often, 't-ank you, Bay Area, gggrrrratitude!" (she rolls her Rs beautifully) and offered up a 16-piece coven of sequined and hooded Icelandic choir princesses, so you can assume she's the benevolent type of creator.
The vibe was weird to start, with most of the audience confused as to where to go, do we sit or stand, what is this place, will she come out before dark even though the whole place is encased by floor-to-ceiling windows? Will I cry when she appears? There were a few poofy pink or orange wigs dotting the crowd, and at least one swan costumed fella, who, also benevolent, took time to pose for photos with fans after the show.
The Craneway only holds 4,000 people, which still seems like a lot until you realize that when Björk's Volta tour came through, it went to the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, which holds 22,500. And with the stage in the dead center and the aforementioned ripply waters just outside the windows, it did feel like the smallest possible way to view Björk. "Did she just look directly at me?” It must have been thought dozens of times throughout the night during this Biophilia stop.
The show itself began auspiciously enough, with a young woman stepping out onto the stage to patiently ask the crowd to put away its cell phones and cameras, to live in the moment for the night. People cheered, as concert-goers are sick of the constant interruption at shows (or maybe I'm projecting). Most got the point -- hello, we were about to be in the presence of a legendary elf and sonic genius, live in the now -- but plenty decided to shirk the suggestion, just too giddy with social media attention. (Full disclosure: I posted a photo of the empty stage long before the show started, but still, I admit to that tugging need to let people know I was there, near her.)
At 9pm, a National Geographic documentary-style voice (actually British broadcaster David Attenborough, narrating Biophilia's intro) came over the loudspeaker and explained the night would be about "NATURE, MUSIC, AND TECHNOLOGY." It also asked us to expand our minds, and a few other ideas that I missed due to excitement. Just listen to the album introduction, it's all there.
The cloaked Icelandic choir -- all blonde, Viking-esque, and vaguely Kirsten Dunst-looking, wearing oversized smocks of glittery green or velvety amber-brown with large hoods -- marched out and stood in a hunched and humble circle on the already circular stage and began chanting. A sea of impressive vocals rose with immediacy.
And then Björk rose up like a bewigged phoenix from the ashes, and lightly shuffled near the Tesla coils as they crackled with purple electricity inside a human-sized bird cage (technically, a Faraday shield). She later called the Tesla coils her "fun new toy." The set began with "Oskasteinar," then electrifying "Thunderbolt,” which teetered between grinding techno thanks to arpeggios timed to the coils and passionate love song, given Björk's leaping vocals. This was followed by "Moon" (large moons floating and shifting on the circle of TV screens surrounding the stage) and "Chrystalline" (crystal gems dance across said screens). Most songs had a visual component on those screens, a natural element growing and twisting like a video game or early web screen-saver. The image of the earth’s mantle cracking open looked straight out of a biology book.
Björk and the hooded Kirsten Dunsts sang their way through most of Biophilia -- the main star of this tour -- but also revisited old favorites like "Hidden Place,” which was matched to a neat video of colorful starfish frolicking underwater, and incredibly sexy Vespertine hit "Pagan Poetry," which burst out of Bjork's mouth like fire, filling the room with warmth. That powerful "I love him/I love him/I love him/I love him" breakdown felt almost too personal in such a small place. But then the choir piped up with that tender backup “She loves him,” and it brought us all back to the present.
While she sang, Björk one-two shuffled around in platform glitter shoes and a glittery beige haute couture dress that looked like it was covered in 3-D alien breasts. She pushed her body forward and back. She shot her hands out and spread her fingers like she was casting spells to the beats. She pulled out the iPad to play during a handful of songs, and was also backed by a live drummer, a musician on "computers and shit," and a truly epic harpist, also wearing a glittery oversized smock. Large pendulums swung to and fro just off the stage.
Björk and the Dunsts left the stage after an hour, returning a few short minutes later with "Possibly Maybe" off 1995’s Post, “Nattura," and finally, closing with Volta’s "Declare Independence." For that last song, she asked that everyone stand (VIP area was seated) and sing-along, "Declare independence/Don't let them do that to you" and everyone obliged, hoping to please their mad scientist master with repeated declarations of independence. Make your own flag, raise your flag higher, higher.
6. “Dark Matter”
7. “Hidden Place”
11. “Generous Palmstroke”
12. “Pagan Poetry”
13. “Mutual Core”
16. “Possibly Maybe”
18. “Declare Independence”