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Get Out More...............................Gig Review

BJORK (Wolves Civic, Friday)



Steve Beauchampe has followed Bjork’s career since the early days of the Sugarcubes. He finds her in fine form at the Civic Hall in her first West Midlands gig for more than a decade.

Björk’s status as one of our planet’s foremost musical explorers is richly deserved, so it’s an expectant and excited audience that gathers for her first West Midlands show since a magical performance at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall in November 1997.

She’s in a particularly vibrant phase right now, 2007's Volta album featuring a firework shower of strong, bright primary coloured artwork, the accompanying live performances characterised by the kind of outrageous rainbow-hued costumes likely to lift even the most pallid of spirits.

The stage of Wolverhampton Civic is festooned with large flags, each decorated with images of frogs, fish and other, less determinable objects.

Preceded by two percussion players, a keyboardist and the all-female, ten-piece Icelandic Brass Orchestra (there’s no guitars or bass anywhere on stage), Björk bounds into our midst to the rhythmic strains of Volta opener Earth Intruders, her face painted tribal warrior-style (a visual matched by the brass ensemble) and with the demeanour of one recently escaped from a secret netherland underneath the volcanic rock of her homeland.

It’s a mood accentuated by follow up number The Hunter, during which giant party popper-style strings explode from her hands (mirroring the imagery used on the artwork of the Hidden Place single), and trail behind her blazing yellow dress. The shimmering beauty of Pagan Poetry requires the orchestra’s choral talents, while the gorgeous Unravel takes us further into Björk’s enchanting Icelandic psyche.

Though her voice remains as strong and resonant as ever, The Pleasure Is All Mine and Where Is The Line, both culled from the vocal-only Medula album, have considerably more body with brass and organ accompaniment, while Vertebrae by Vertebrae from Volta also gains additional oomph in live performance.

There’s real momentum to the show now, the punchy Army Of Me sees confetti showering the musicians and lasers smacking shapes into the venues’ walls and roof, while Björk cavorts with uninhibited ebullience during I Miss You and Triumph Of A Heart (featuring, I think, a Celeste).

There’s a distinctive dance phase to this section of the show, though forthcoming single Wanderlust disappoints slightly, sounding better on disc than on stage.

It’s a momentary dip, as now surrounded stage front by the orchestra, Björk delivers the techno-influenced Hyperballad and Pluto (from the brilliant Post and Homogenic albums respectively) taking us into Prodigy/Chemical Brothers territory, the beats principally provided by Apple Mac and a Reactable, a large box-like structure placed towards the centre rear of the stage which responds to the movement of objects placed on it.

Her temporary departure brings sustained roars for more, a cry answered after a decent, but not overlong, interval by musician introductions (quite hard to determine exactly what was said but – I think- Chris Corsano and Mark Bell on percussion, Damien Taylor on keyboards, synthesiser and processors) followed by Oceania, the song Björk showcased at the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

Almost inevitably, the set closes with Volta’s standout track, the storming, stomping, hardcore techno Declare Independence, a paean to individuality.

Sure, it’s a punch the air sing-a-long number, though the lyrics’ rebellious intent (Declare Independence/Don’t Let Them Do That To You/Start Your Own Currency/Protect Your Language/Raise Your Flag) are somewhat more muted in Wolverhampton than when Björk performed the song in China.

But it’s stirring stuff, and a statement of defiance for us to take into the excitable, heady buzz of the post-gig Wolverhampton night, hoping that it won’t be another decade before Björk Gudmundsdóttir returns to the West Midlands to treat us to more music sans frontiers, by which time who knows in which heady direction she’ll be sailing.

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