Bjork comes to Seoul

Bjork came to play Seoul Saturday. I want to say she kicked ass, but those words are meaningless, even though there was much ass being kicked. So I have to try some other words. She was chilling, enrapturing, transcendent, violent, otherworldly, mad as a fucking loon. It was as if she put her hands on the microphone and sent a shockwave of electricity through the whole arena.

This was the second time I’d seen her. The first time was the Vespertine tour stop in Oakland. My girlfriend at the time used her contacts to score us 10th row seats. That show was pretty mindblowing as well, but it was also tainted by me and her being in the process of a breakup, and we had a brief but highly public fight in the lobby right before the show went on. Anyway, the mood in that performance was ethereal, sensual, and restrained. If memory serves, I believe she had a choir and Matmos (two guys with Macintoshes), and that was it.

The show in Seoul was the opposite. It was all out highly charged energy, even during the slower parts. When the lights came down, out walked a dozen or so brass players in strange, anti-elfin uniforms, with tiny flags perched atop their heads. The rest of the band came out — including a keyboard player, two programmers, and a drummer — and then Bjork herself. I can’t for the life of me figure out what she was wearing, some golden explosion of unearthly fabric. The stage was similarly cosmic. Well, not quite cosmic, but if Tolkien did post-apocalyptic rather than pre-civilization, it might look something like this. It all had a slightly militant quality to it, with brightly colored flags and tapestries depicting icons of unknown culture (no doubt in reference to “Declare Independence”).

During the first song, the lighting was bad, and it seemed the front-of-house mixer was trying to properly place her voice in the room. But when she kicked into “Hunter,” the second song, everything clicked. And then, when she belted out “how Scandinavian of me,” my head almost exploded. She sounded inhuman. No voice in the known world should be able to produce such sound. Some sort of strange vibration hit me and a shudder spread from my spine throughout my whole body. Right in that moment I thought, okay, this isn’t Vespertine. This will be a different experience altogether.

The whole show continued like this, with wave after wave of euphoria. Her band sounded great – except her drummer, but I’m not in the mood to criticize. I really like what she’s doing with brass arrangements, both in the live show and in the new album Volta. Some of my friends weren’t into the computer stuff, but I loved it. She’s a brilliant sound designer, with an equal appreciation for texture and outright noise. But what we all kept talking about after the show was her voice. She sounds great on recordings, but it’s almost as if recording technology is incapable of handling a force that it’s never had to deal with before. Something else entirely was happening here; it was as if she were released from a cage. She was Brahma and Shiva all at once, roaming around simultaneously creating and destroying with that voice of hers. Absolutely incredible.

So yes, the show was… indescribable. But I’m not done describing, because the whole Seoul weekend was interesting. I’ll post a follow-up soon.

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