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  BJORK w/ Bonnie Prince Billy and The Matthew Herbert Big Band  
  The Hollywood Bowl  
  Hollywood, CA  
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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 seen way.

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.

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Mediahostage took this photo of the show.


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