The Royal Albert Hall is a a bit of a bugger to get to on a Wednesday evening so when Dave agreed not only to go with me but also to drive that was a real bonus. The day before I had a blowout on the way home from work so I had to get some new tyres on Wednesday, then drive down to Didcot to meet up with Dave and on to London and a side street with free parking, near to a tube station that was only three stops from South Kensington, the nearest station to the Albert Hall.
It’s been quite some time since Dave had been on the tube and it’s fair to say he was quite shocked that it was just under £10 a return ticket for only three stops,to be honest, I was a little surprised myself , I had thought £5 or so, but £10?, a taxi would have been cheaper.
Here’s Dave as we arrived and had a look around:
It’s an impressive structure that’s for sure, although we still got a little lost on the walk from the tube, mostly my fault as I completely lost my ability to understand what google maps was telling me.
In an effort to stop the secondary selling of tickets it was necessary to have the tickets, cover note with name and address and a photo ID to get in, which was fine for us at door 8 and we got in almost immediately, but there were some pretty long queues at the other doors. We were about an hour early so we made our way to the Old Speckled Hen bar where I rather enjoyed a Gin before taking our seats.
We were seated in the circle, which was not good for me as I’m really not very fond of heights and it was a long way down with a barrier that was only at about the level of my knees. I rather nervously shuffled to my seat and sat in what was a very small space for a big man, or a medium man even.
Dave is not worried by heights, which may be why he is wearing that semi-evil smile but this:
scared the crap out of me and I began to wish I’d managed to buy tickets at ground level, however, I was where I was so there was no point moaning about it, but I did, a bit anyway. It had looked as though the concert was going to start with only a half full Albert Hall but at 7:30 it very quickly filled up and by 7:45 it was full.
The Aurora Orchestra walked out and took their seats, followed by Conductor then after a brief pause Bjork appeared stage right and we were underway. I can truthfully say that I was a little choked up as the first track, ‘Stonemilker’ began and Bjork sang the first lines. I have been trying, one way or another, to see her perform live for years and this , finally, was it.
The first half of the performance was a rather hard listen as it was tracks from Vulnicura, which is a rather a difficult mind set to find oneself in being as it is about the breakup of a relationship and the effects it has on a family unit. I have previously mentioned in an earlier post that I was finding the whole Vulnicurna album to be very difficult to get into but, as a result of seeing it performed right there in front of me, I found a way in and have a much deeper appreciation of the songs and am beginning to love it.
The acoustics int the Albert Hall are really astounding. At one point Bjork was singing acapella and stamped her foot on the stage, which I could hear clearly even though I was quite some distance away. Everything was beautifully clear, not a hint of distortion and it was a pleasure on the ears. As I discussed with Dave, the approach to this concert had to be a little different as there was no percussion, no variation I suppose as we had strings and Bjork’s voice, so we approached it as though it were a concert of classical music, which one day may well be the case, but it helped us to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate what was unfolding in front of us. Without the accompanying electronics, with no beat, Bjork seemed even more exposed, vulnerable even as she documented her break up from film director Matthew Barney.
The arrangement of ‘Black Lake’ was quite unnerving in a way, the strings would hold a long note, slowly dying away to the point that the song may have ended, until Bjork again sang, and then the note would be held again, to drift away, at one point eliciting rousing applause as many thought the song finished, before Bjork would again begin to sing.
It was, in a way, an opera, one full of tragedy. As she sang the word that were hauntingly sad, as from ‘Family’:
Is there a place
Where I can pay respects
For the death of my family
How will I sing us
Out of this sorrow
Build a safe bridge
For the child out of this danger
After about 50 minutes there was an intermission which gave people a chance to nip to the loo, or the bar, but I sat where I was, chatting to Dave, I really didn’t want to stand up and see that drop again. All the opening songs were from Vulnicurna I think, which means the first half was probably as follows:
History of Touches
The second half kicked off and was somewhat more upbeat although we did still have just strings and voice, but what a voice, and what an orchestra, everything was beautifully executed. The version of Jóga was indeed beautiful, more delicate with only strings, but retaining it’s essence, even though, just for one song, some percussion or electronics to add light and shade would have been welcome, in the end it didn’t matter, Bjork was majestic, floating about the stage in a dress that reacted to UV light and lit her up like a jellyfish drifting on the tides.
The second half tracks and encore were:
I’ve Seen It All
The Anchor Song
As you can see from the numbers below, Vulnicura was the main event, which is understandable as it has been the focus of the last three official releases, the studio album, with strings and Live:
Vulnicura – 8
Homogenic – 2
Vespertine – 2
Debut – 1
Selmasongs – 1
When Björk left the stage after a wonderful version of Pluto, the crowd, who had previously seemed to be under a spell, broke free and there was stamping of the floor and taking up of the song’s “ooh-oooh-ooh-ooh” chant. The house lights came up but it continued, until, alone, Bjork returned to the stage to thank London, “my second musical home”.
Here are some professional photographs taken on the evening and borrowed from the Bjork website:
And here are various bits of video that have turned up since Wednesday last week, of varying length and quality but it gives a flavor of the event:
An the crowd went wild!:
In summation, it wasn’t quite what I expected but it was brilliant all the same and I would have gone to the Hammersmith Apollo a few days later if I could have afforded tickets, but next time around I will be going again for a full band experience, because like any great performer, she left me wanting more.