On a hot humid Tuesday night, at an outdoor sand-filled venue that calls itself a “beach,” I saw Björk for the first time ever, after being a fan since teenagehood. At this point in her career, it’s nearly impossible to read any kind of article about Björk without invoking words like “magic,” alluding to her otherworldly pixie-like qualities or her unmistakably adorable Icelandic accent.
But it’s also nearly impossible not to think of these things when it comes to Björk. Emerging from the shadows in a massive frizzy ginger wig (as featured on her 2011 album, Biophilia), in a glittery blue dress, Björk looked positively magical and otherworldly. The bouncy ginger wig also reminded me of the Disney-Pixar heroine, Merida from Brave, which adds to all the more cartoony magic that Björk seems to ooze from her very pores.
Accompanied by Icelandic female choir, Graduale Nobili (also wearing glittery dresses to complement Björk’s), an amazing multi-tasking percussionist and DJ/programmer/gadgets guy – and a whole ton of special effects (a massive Tesla coil which pulsed electricity in time with selected songs, a wall of sparklers and flames, and strobe lights) – Björk was always the focus of the show. On her records, it has always been a wonderment to hear the range and elasticity of Björk’s powerful voice – sometimes fierce, with a slight growl, or other times, cooing and girlish. To hear it in person was awe-inspiring and somewhat life-affirming (okay, maybe an exaggeration… I guess).
The bulk of the set list consisted of songs from Biophilia – opener “Cosmogony,” “Moon” (which featured projected animations of the phases of the moon on a large screen), “Thunderbolt” and “Crystalline.” The crowd went wild for “Hunter” and “Hidden Place” early on in the set and later, even wilder for a triple punch of older songs (and my personal favourites, how did she know?!): “Jóga,” “Pagan Poetry” and “Army of Me.” The repeated refrain of “She loves him” from Graduale Nobili at the end of “Pagan Poetry” was truly breathtaking.
In a one-song encore, Björk and co. performed the jubilant and defiant “Declare Independence,” dedicating it to Trayvon Martin. Then, with one last “Thank you!” the Toronto audience wandered back into the hot summer night, shaking sand out of their shoes.