Live Report: Bjork

Hammerstein Ballroom, New York, May 11, 1998

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In a smoke-filled midtown Manhattan ballroom, hundreds of fans restlessly awaited the arrival of the Icelandic techno-princess, Bjork, who was set to hit the stage at 9 p.m. When she finally sauntered onstage a half-hour late with her pre-pubescent, flat-footed walk -- preceded by eight string musicians and a DJ -- the crowd was nothing short of elated.

Bjork opened with "Hunter," off her latest album, Homogenic, the title of which accurately described the first two-thirds of her performance. The nine or so songs which followed were expertly arranged and beautifully sung, but each song, stripped down to strings and drumbeats, sounded much like the next. Nonetheless, the crowd seemed captivated as the elfin Miss Gudmundsdottir frolicked around the stage like an awkward adolescent, swaying her arms (which were encased in the fan-like, angelic sleeves of a short, white dress) and destroying the English language in the charming way that only Bjork can. She looked more like a character out of a Disney cartoon than like a pop star.

When she finally got into the whole scene, Bjork whipped out older favorites, like "Human Behaviour," "Violently Happy" and "Hyper-Ballad." Her signature accented vocals intertwined with angular techno sounds and the curvilinear string arrangements of her backing octet to create the most intricate and beautiful of geometries. It was complex, yet simple -- easy enough to bob your head to or sit in your seat and watch in awe. The incredible aural beauty that Bjork and her band created is exactly what her fans love about her, making the first ten songs of her set even more perplexing. Were they just a warm-up for the madness and striking splendor that was to come? Was she having a hard time getting comfortable? When she said her final "Thank you very much" and curtsied, there was a sense of incompletion. Wasn't she just getting into it?

Gratification was quick, however, when Bjork came back to the stage to perform an intensely radiant, strings-only version of "Joga." She stood on the side of the stage, flanked by cellists and violinists, singing without inhibition. "And you push me up to this/State of emergency/How beautiful to be/State of emergency/Is where I want to be," she repeated, pushing her arms and voice up, filling herself with emotion. It was exactly where her fans wanted to be as well.