Considering the fact that I currently live in
Atlanta, Georgia, I want to go ahead and state that I didn’t
travel to the other side of the country just to see Bjork. I
will admit, however, that I did adjust my flights by a day or
two in order to squeeze it in. Let’s face it, if you live in
Atlanta, and you love Bjork, then you have been just plain out
of luck. She has avoided this city like no other, having only
played here once before, on her first solo tour back in 1993.
So, needless to say, I was duly ecstatic about seeing her at
all, let alone in the beautiful Hollywood Bowl!
For those of you who have never been there, The Hollywood Bowl
is essentially a natural venue carved into a valley in the Hollywood
hills that holds between fifteen and twenty thousand people.
The mountains and rocks around the venue provide superb natural
acoustics, and the house sound system is just amazing. This
particular night was perfect with hardly a cloud in the sky,
no humidity, a lovely breeze, and a nearly-full moon hanging
overhead (as if it were enjoying the show!).
When I arrived, the first of two opening acts was playing to
a half-empty venue. The Matthew Herbert Big Band was starting
the evening off right with some uptempo, mostly instrumental,
big band music. What was really unique about this group was
that, in addition to the dozen or so traditional instruments,
there were also a sampler and drum machine providing odd sounds
and loops. Additionally, a beautifully-voiced woman occasionally
emerged to sing with the band. The overall effect of the band,
especially with the addition of the female vocals, reminded
me of the Felt Mountain album by Goldfrapp. I
would say that The Matthew Herbert Big Band was quite good.
They pulled off a complicated combination of genres in a rarely
By this point in the evening the venue was nearly full, and
it came as a total shock when Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy (aka, Will
Oldham) emerged. Coming out alone with only an autoharp, he
introduced himself and immediately began playing. OK, I know
Bjork is known for making odd decisions when it comes to selecting
opening acts. However, bringing out a singer/songwriter to play
very downbeat material in between two more upbeat groups was
a very bad idea. The only reason I can come up with for the
odd order is that it is easier to clear a solo performer off
the stage than it is a full group, therefore making Bjork’s
entrance very quick.
Even aside from the poor set placement, ‘Prince’ Billy was
a real disappointment. His songs seemed completely uninspired,
his voice was not that good, his lyrics were a bit trite, and
he played WAAAAY too long. Now, having said that, I would also
like to say that the crowd at this show was one of the most
rude I have ever seen. About 7 songs into Billy’s set, the booing
started, and grew to a fever pitch about 4 songs later. As I
said, I was totally unimpressed with his performance, but no
performer should ever be treated with this amount of disrespect.
It was an embarrassment for concert-goers everywhere.
Bjork’s band for this performance consisted of a string octet,
two knob-twiddlers (called Matmos), and a harpist. Upon entering
the stage, the band immediately began with the opening notes
of Unravel, from the Homogenic album. Bjork
emerged to a roaring welcome and the show was off to a great
start. Following the first song was a true surprise. I’ve
Seen it All from the Selmasongs record was
performed beautifully (even without Thom Yorke) and provided
the perfect somber lead-in for the next song, Joga.
When the first notes of Joga were struck, the crowd
went crazy. The first pair of songs had been much calmer, so
this faster song was quite a turn-around. When the hard chorus
of the song kicked in, a dozen
hidden torches spewed flames high into the air all around the
performers, and fireworks shot up from behind the stage.
The KISS-like pyrotechnics may sound cheesy, but they were done
quite tastefully. After Joga the song selection jumped
all over, from Bjork’s first album, Debut, all
the way up to her most recent record. Most surprising were the
inclusion of a few rare tracks from her Family Tree
boxed set, as well as the rarely-played 5 Years. Each
song was executed with stunning precision and emotion, making
the show seem much shorter than it actually was.
The only complaint I have about Bjork’s performance was the
lack of projected images. At The Hollywood Bowl, there are two
huge screens behind and above the performers. Given Bjork’s
tendency to incorporate vivid visual imagery into her songs
and performances, it was very disappointing to not have anything
up on those screens for the majority of the time. However, during
three or so songs the screen came to life and displayed footage
of varying degrees of abstraction, most of which was culled
from her music videos. For those of us who could not afford
the ridiculously-priced box seats, a few on-stage close-ups
projected on the screens would have heightened the experience.
Overall, this was a great night. Two out of three bands were
great, the sound superb, and the weather flawless. Bjork’s performance
this night easily puts the show in my top fifteen of all time.