Bjork at All Points East: Utopian flutes undeterred by lightning, indifference
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What’s the difference between a headline festival set and an intimate gig for diehard fans? Not, apparently, a question that concerned Bjork in preparation for her first UK show promoting the Utopia LP.
Never knowingly one to fulfil expectations, Bjork’s 41-year career has been a series of challenges to the traditional conception of a pop star, and this show was the latest attack on such notions.
Few would doubt her artistry, commitment to boundary-pushing and iconic vocal style – but some might question the wisdom of placing her alongside the more crowd-pleasing headliners of previous nights.
In this respect, Bjork did not exactly do herself any favours.
She appeared on stage at the centre of a rotating utopian island of greenery, sporting a Star Trek alien/orchid mask and surrounded by a troupe of likewise-masked flautists, while visualisations of explosively blooming flowers kept time with the beats of Arisen My Senses.
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Although the opening was suitably bold and the rest of the set contained many memorable moments, such as a stunning tableau of the flautists battling against the elements during Notget, in general you could feel the audience’s patience being tested as one after another flute-based track with nature-based visualisations was performed.
Moments of excitement were provided by an angry-looking stormcloud on the horizon, whose many thunderbolts were assumed to have been summoned by the force-of-nature vocalist on stage - a more fitting trick for her Biophilia period.
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Tellingly, the storm distracted large sections of the crowd from the intricate set design and beautifully delicate melodies.
A rare moment of engagement with the new material was provided during Tabula Rasa, the crowd responding with a cheer to “It is time/ For us women to rise/ And not just take it lying down”, and again when Bjork ended the song with a declaration of “Me Too!”
A palpable sense of relief greeted each fan favourite from earlier eras, flute-based versions of Isobel and Human Behaviour eliciting welcome moments of recognition.
Bjork took to Instagram after the show to express her gratitude to “londeners [with] ears wide open to my utopian flute experiment” and it was clear that the crowd, in spite of the uncompromising setlist, was grateful to be in Bjork’s presence.
One expects, however, that playing a few more danceable tracks, or taking this show to a concert hall, might have been a better fit.