Bjork: Live at the Royal Opera House
Directed by David Barnard
One Little Indian
If you are a Bjork fan, this DVD is essential; if you are not, Live at the Royal Opera House offers an in depth and complete explanation as to why a bizarre little woman from Iceland can sell millions of records all over the world. Fans of Bjork must swallow the pill that Bjork, in her late thirties, is at her creative peak, and her latest album, Vespertine, is the work of a creative genius at the peak of her skills. Vespertine is one of the most unique and beautiful records ever made by a contemporary artist of any genre, and Live at the Royal Opera House captures Bjork performing songs taken mainly from Vespertine.
The Royal Opera House, located in London, is used primarily for opera (duh!), and Bjork is the first contemporary pop artist ever to perform on its stage. Were Bjork playing music with enormous beats, such as her work on Post, then the Opera House would not be the optimal setting; however, the music on Vespertine is very soft, quiet, and subdued, making the majestic Opera House the perfect setting.
For this performance, Bjork has enlisted an electronic duo by the name of Matmos to lay down all of the weird blips, beeps, and beats; an all female choir of 12 from Greenland supply the back up vocals, while the highly talented Zeena Parkins plucks the harp.
Two instrumentals (an entire orchestra plays throughout the entire show, as well!) open the show, the beautiful “Frosti” and “Overture,” the only song to be played taken from the highly successful Dancer in the Dark soundtrack. The fan favorite “All is Full of Love” plays very well in the Opera House setting, and it sounds markedly different than the way it sounds in the studio, on the album Homogenic.
The fourth song starts my favorite part of the performance, ten songs in a row from the Vespertine era, the first being “Aurora.” “Aurora” is probably my all time favorite Bjork song; it features a triumphant and rising vocal line in the chorus that pushes the limits of heaven itself; simply amazing. I must admit that I was disappointed with the performance of it here on this DVD, as Bjork lets the Greenland choir handle the most beautiful vocal lines of the song; Bjork’s voice is enchanting on the studio version of “Aurora;” nonetheless, the song is done well enough to give me goosebumps every time I watch it!
“Undo” is a soft, whispered song that features a hint of Bjork’s Homogenic days, with a clickity clackity beat in the background. Bjork handles this song masterfully here, and the Greenland choir sound absolutely angelic.
I should probably take a moment to describe what the stage and performers look like: Bjork looks gorgeous in a plain white outfit, long and natural looking black hair, and very conservative make up. She simply glows with the natural beauty that is commonly found in women from Iceland. The Greenland choir is decked out in red beaded outfits that look almost Native American. Matmos look like a pair of regular guys, with short haircuts and casual street clothes. The harpist, Zeena, looks lovely, and is also dressed conservatively. The backdrop of the stage changes every once in a while, with the best background being a shot of some barren land of ice, probably being Greenland.
I really like “Generous Palmstroke” here; the studio version is poorly recorded and hard to hear, but here, it shines! This song features simply Bjork and the harp, and it showcases well Bjork’s unique vocal stylings.
The next song that gave me goosebumps was “Cocoon.” I wasn’t really all that big a fan of the studio version; don’t get me wrong, I liked the song, but I though there were better ones. At this performance, “Cocoon” steals the show. It is beyond words how completely perfect the way she performs this song typifies what it is that fans of Bjork love about her. She whispers the lyrics, the notes flutter about, and its purely magic the way everything comes together.
Several other songs from Vespertine are played, including “Harm Of Will,” Unison,” and “Pagan Poetry,” all of them sounding proper and well done.
Much to the delight of the crowd, Bjork changes outfits to a red dress with a feathery bottom, and performs “Possibly Maybe,” a fan favorite from Post. It sounds great and its fun to hear such an old song come back to life! Not to be outdone, she also does two more Post tracks, “Isobel” and the utterly amazing “Hyperballad.” Both tracks brought back personal memories, most of them more painful than happy, so I would be the wrong judge of those songs, although they sounded nice.
Next came the only song from Debut, the tribal romp of “Human Behavior.” It sounds really fun and exciting, and it also goes to show just how much Bjork has matured from her early days as a solo artist (for those of you who don’t know, she used to sing for the pop group Sugarcubes, and an art rock band called Kukl). Bjork then comes out for an encore, in the form of the fantastic “Joga” from Homogenic. It sounds wonderful and the song itself is a masterpiece.
The show ends with a bit of uppity grandstanding and loudness, the song “It’s In Our Hands.” The band cuts loose on this one, everyone freaking out and clapping and torturing their instruments and dancing and going absolutely wild! It’s a really cool way to end the show, as the mood was, for the most part, somber and subdued.
The DVD also features some really pretty bonus footage of the band and Bjork just hanging around, with some lovely landscapes, as well.
This is the best live Bjork performance I have ever seen, and I’d being willing to bet that I ever will see. It’s nearly perfect!
As a side note, we Americans will have a bit of a hard time getting a hold of this DVD, as it is made only in the UK. It can be had at some of the more cool record stores in your area, but I didn’t waste anytime with that business, and I bought mine off of eBay. I had to pay $38.00, and that is about the standard going price, as of now, for this DVD. I’ve seen it sell for as low as $14.99, but that’s a rarity.
Like I said before, this DVD captures one of our truly great musicians at the top of her game, and this DVD is an absolute must for fans. Simply incredible.