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LIVE: BJÖRK CORNUCOPIA – Perth, WA, 6 March 2023

| 7 March 2023 | Reply

LIVE: BJÖRK CORNUCOPIA – Perth, WA, 6 March 2023
For Perth Festival, Perth, Western Australia – Monday, 6 March 2023
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar
Officially supplied photographs by Santiago Felipe
Please note these images are from the 3 March performance, not the reviewed show

Icelandic ingenue Björk Guðmundsdóttir has come a long way since her first visit to Australia, supporting her first [adult] solo LP Debut as part of the 1994 Big Day Out line-up. She was unique, otherworldly, even then, but this show is something else again: an indisputable masterpiece of sensory theatre, directed by celebrated Argentine film director Lucrecia Martel.

It’s a global coup for the Perth festival – a national exclusive consisting of four shows, her only Southern hemisphere shows expected for this tour. That the International Space Station passed overhead almost exactly an hour before showtime was almost definitely a coincidence, but somehow fitting all the same.

This is no ‘Greatest Hits’ show – it’s not even a pop concert in any recognisable sense. Ostensibly a platform to share her heartfelt and anxious message about the crisis of climate change, Cornucopia focusses primarily on songs from 2017’s Utopia, with a smattering from Vespertine, Medulla, Vulcinara and 2022’s Fossora. Only Isobel, from her 1995 album Post, reaches back to her early days.

The show opens with local vocal choir Voyces, whose conductor Richard Brahms’s gym-broken sling-bound wing doesn’t impede his charge’s heavenly voices from taking full flight and astounding during their multi-song prelude.

The show’s star appears onstage in front of a coterie of flautists, singing

“If you care for me, care for me
Then I’ll care for you, care for you”

from The Gate, and we realise this is no ordinary concert. With Björk dressed in what appeared (from halfway back in the custom-built mega-marquee) to be a leafy tumbleweed costume underpinned by heavy Doc Martin boots, rather than the green dress with breastplate made by Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing and Iris van Herpen pictured from Friday’s performance. More than once we longed for her to be projected onto the backing or side screens so we could observe her and her finessed performance in more detail.

Her voice, though, is flawless, ethereal – like an Icelandic imp from faerieland come to share nature’s secrets with us. Which, we can’t help but observe, is closer to the truth than some would like to admit. At times she appears to be duetting with herself, so layered are the backing vocals, though most of the music appears to be performed live.

If anyone can pull off the heavy-handed metaphor of the frontwoman as Mother Nature herself, it’s Bjork and her singular talents. Lights and sound seemingly appear from all directions, immersing us further into this faerie world, though Björk’s performance seems strangely subdued in comparison, pacing back and forth concentrating more on her admittedly incredible vocals. Icelandic flute ensemble Viibra provide a more playful and theatrical focal point.

Stunning visuals, often of flowers and fungi writhing in tune, or of AI-looking video of bodies mutating unnaturally, as perhaps humankind will do once the world devolves into climate chaos [the singer has suggested that she envisions a postapocalyptic future where “plants, birds and humans will merge into a new mutant species”] – appear on the screens to accompany the sometimes coruscating lights. At one point strong lights flash so aggressively throughout an entire song that they would have stopped an attacking army of epileptics in their tracks.

It’s worth noting that the majority of musicians on stage are female. Björk is on record as stating that “the whole show is a lot about females supporting each other” and that the concept of the Utopia album was to deal with nature in “a more compassionate way… hopefully (starting) from a female point of view.”

Midway through the performance a specially created flute ring descends – designed specifically so it can only be played simultaneously by four flautists, not two or three – and the Voyces choir provide their stunning backing before the stage is cleared and a manifesto of sorts scrolls across the screens, referencing the 2015 Paris Climate Accords and culminating in the simple yet powerful statement:

“Imagine a future.
Be in it.”

This is the sum total of Björk’s direct interaction with her audience, other than “thanks for tonight” at the end of the main set.

The show – the performance – is undoubtedly a masterpiece. Almost a sensory overload, at times. But will the message resonate with attendees of this haute couture pop art installation?

An encore (of sorts) begins with a pre-recorded message from Swedish climate activist Greta Thunburg – albeit recorded several years ago – enthusiastically whooped by some (a little disrespectfully, it seemed to us) and met with stony, obstinate silence by others, possibly more concerned with creature comforts and their business interests than with any precocious teen telling them inconvenient truths they’d rather turn a blind eye to.

It’s sad, and no little bit ironic, that as we sit in this incredible tent of steel and plastic, immersing in a show designed to highlight the most pressing crisis of our times and the desperate need for immediate action, that the message seemed to reach its target only with those already converted to the crusade.

A small choir performs Future Forever, sans Björk, and the show is abruptly over. The absence of Notget – performed at Friday’s debut show – coupled with the less-animated than expected performance, making some wonder aloud if she was feeling poorly in some way.

Regardless, the beauty and scope of Cornucopia cannot be denied. The show is an incredible sensory experience, and any opportunity to be at one with Björk’s incredible and unique voice and talents is to be treasured. The message inherent in this show is just as important as the art, but feels like it was somehow diluted by the relentless barrage of sensory stimuli.

Setlist:
Bird Sounds and Soundscapes
Voyces Choir Prelude:
Cornucopia
Sonnets/Unrealities XI

Family
The Gate
Utopia
Arisen My Senses
Ovule
Atopos
Show Me Forgiveness
Isobel
Blissing Me
Body Memory
Hidden Place
Mouth’s Cradle
Features Creatures
Courtship
Pagan Poetry
Losss
Sue Me
Tabula Rasa

Encore:
Future Forever [sans Björk]

Category: Live Reviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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