Monday, December 7, 2009


Friday, January 25, 2008 
Sydney Opera House forecourt

Yes, it is worth it. Worth traveling to Sydney, enduring a 6 hour wait in the 30-something degree heat and paying $150 for half a square foot of space by a bored security guy's paunch to witness a show by this still-vital iconoclast about whom so much has been written and so little understood. Not at all the cute pixie people still feel happiest pigeonholing her as, tonight, she proves that despite the lengthy list of conditions which have to be met before playing this gig (reaching near Van Halen: 'No red M&Ms' proportions) when she puts on a show, it's one hell of a show.

The setting is inspired. The Botanical Gardens to the left, the Harbour Bridge to the right, a full moon rising over the Opera House behind and a light show that would have Pink Floyd wetting their pants coming at you from the front with dozens of fluttering flags on stage and Rizla-style confetti exploding over our heads leaving a foot of snow at our feet for the encore. There may be some expense spared, but it isn't on spectacle.
New York two-piece Shy Child do a great job of playing to a crowd that basically just wants them to leave. Full of metal hand-signs, short energetic songs and more keytar action than a Pseudo Echo film-clip, they're rough fun, and despite a limited sound which leads the songs to be very samey, are admirably diverting. Clearly humbled to be playing at all, they would definitely be worth catching in a small sweaty venue, but Battles were wise to turn down this gig.

A 10-piece all-female horn section stride onto the stage dressed in bulbous one-piece outfits reminiscent of Björk's garb on the cover of Volta, flags bursting from the back of their collars. Mark Bell and Damian Taylor trot to their laptops while a drummer and keyboardist poise with intention thrilling through their arms. Within seconds the opening bars of Earth Intruders explode into the dusk, promptly causing 6000 fans to go possibly even more bonkers than Björk herself. And there she is, bouncing on stage in a gold al-foil bodysuit with foot-long, waist-length epaulettes blousing around her, dark neon makeup on her forehead matching the Arthurian animal flags adorning the backdrop, it's a radiant sight.

Though impressive, the show also comes across as an incredibly well-funded Rock Eisteddfod (at which all photography is banned and the outfits made by Björk's mum), with no costume changes but with happily freeform dancing from the horn section. In front of Taylor, the keyboardist and Bell are plasma screens showing the feed from a camera positioned above Taylor who is working a Lemur; a flat screen on which various coloured surfaces appear allowing him to manipulate the sound in a very watchable way. This includes a Golden Compass-like round screen surrounded by dozens of blocks inscribed with odd symbols that cause images of circuits to link the blocks as he places them and crazily morphed algorithms of noise to burst forth. Bizarre, but again proving she's cutting whatever edge it is she is on.

Björk seems reserved at first but loosens up after consuming what looks like a some throat-soothing Japanese food and tea (no plastic water bottles here) and throws herself bodily into a thrillingly comprehensive set. Hunter, Unravel, Pagan Poetry, Who Is It?, Wanderlust and an ecstatic I Miss You are all highlights, but nothing is more banging than the closing Pluto and the encore-ending Indigenous Australian-dedicated Declare Independence that sees the entire crowd nearly shake the laser-lit Opera House into the harbour amidst a confetti snowstorm. "It's a very nice view from here," she trills, "The Opera House and the bridge, and the moon has gatecrashed our party in a very big way. This is a song I played at the Olympics in Athens, it's called Oceania," is all she says besides the occasional and oft-imitated 'Sink you'. It is clear her song selection is made with her daunting tour schedule in mind, and, though no vocal hysterionics are called on (perhaps also the reason for the absence of any songs from Debut) she nevertheless totally, utterly, blows us away.

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