“Nature… Music… Technology,” intones David Attenborough to a childishly expectant crowd, his mellifluous narration creating simultaneous gravitas and familiarity.
We may all now know the story of the evolving multimedia entity that is Björk’s ‘Biophilia’ (Clash review), but it’s only just come to the capital since its debut at Manchester International Festival over two years ago. People are rightly prepared for something exceptional.
Joining Björk on stage are iPad-wielding musical director Matt Robertson and extraordinary percussionist Manu Delago. But the indisputable stars of the show are Graduale Nobili: the Icelandic female choir whose now-multiple performances of the piece have made for faultless harmonics.
Despite their magnificent sound, they appear strangely fragile, an endearingly awkward gaggle of girls in ill-fitting gold-bag dresses. Björk herself looks sensational in an enormous Rainbow Brite afro-wig and liquid silver bubble dress. She’s dressed somewhere between Carwash and the Fibonacci structure of an obscure mollusk.
The broken chords of ‘Thunderbolt’ are dangerously dynamic with the thrilling, almost frightening, Tesla coil descending from the roof surrounded by a cage. Having the audience surround the stage – this show is in the round – is refreshingly inclusive, creating an intimacy in what is ostensibly a hideous shed of a venue. It’s a damn shame this show isn’t somewhere like the Tate or, better still, the Natural History Museum.
She’s like a little bobble-headed dandelion bending at the waist, tripping across the stage in her sparkly boots. Her diction is remarkable and the powerhouse voice is as strong as we’ve heard it. But at the risk of sounding churlish, there’s a dearth of melody here.
Repeated minimal motifs are one thing but many of these songs smack of slightly self-indulgent jamming. Despite this, the performance is infectious, there’s a glee and sincerity about everything Bjork does. It never feels cynical.
'Crystalline' is bold, bright and expansive. She play punches the air with her tiny fists as the girls go wild on stage. It’s eminently more polished than the premiere show, but has lost a little of the magical surprise element in the process.
The bittersweet a cappella ‘Sonnets’ from ‘Medúlla’ is easily the strongest song of the evening, which is recognised and immediately replayed for recording purposes. Incredibly, it sounds even sweeter in repetition.
Virtually unrecognisable is ‘Post’ track ‘Possibly Maybe’, its initially soothing arrangement sounding like something from Brian Easdale’s The Red Shoes soundtrack before a harsh industrial backbeat kicks in and the Tesla coil creates an exhilarating treble.
Conjuring the mesmerising music of the spheres is ‘Cosmogony’, a paean to the wonders of the universe. It’s visually beautiful and at points genuinely musically arresting – but it feels a little like an academic exercise.
‘Biophilia’ may be about biology, but somewhere along the line a little of the humanism has been lost. Tonight proves to be a breath-taking spectacle, but not an overly heart-warming one.
- - -
Words: Anna Wilson
Get the best of Clash on your iPhone - download the app here