Without any new material, Bjork is put in the unenviable position of competing with herself, specifically her 2001 Dorothy Chandler Pavilion concert; a stunning, once-in-a-lifetime event with the potential to overshadow anything that follows. But the Icelandic singer all but ignored that, kicking off the evening with “Unravel,” a ballad that promises, “When you come back/we’ll have to make new love.” While her performance did not quite live up the high bar she set, it was an impressive evening nonetheless.
Given the task of performing in cavernous ballparks and amphitheaters, Bjork has counterintuitively slimmed down her band. Gone are the orchestra and the choir, with just the Icelandic String Octet playing alongside harpist Zeena Parkins and electronic duo Matmos.
Surprisingly, it’s the right choice; the leaner arrangements are better suited for the booming amplification necessitated by large venues. And Bjork deftly shuffled the elements, with the octet adding a romantic surge to “Joga,” Parkins joining Bjork for the delicate filigree of “Sidasta Eg” and Matmos’ crunchy rhythms giving “Aurora” its otherworldly aura. When all three came together for “It’s in Our Hands” and “Pluto,” the joyous onrush of sound virtually levitated the sell-out aud.
A charming performer close up, Bjork is still a stubbornly inward presence, singing to the wings as often as she projects to the back of the house.
To compensate, she has brought an extravaganza on the road with her. At various points, flames shot up around her and fireworks exploded above the crowd. Videos accompanied “Unravel,” “Desired Constellation,” “Nature Is Ancient” and “Pluto,” their jarring, surreal images forming a kind of Edda, or creation story, as they moved from a swirling chaos to written communication, culminating the finale of “Human Behavior,” where she advised, “There’s no map and a compass wouldn’t help at all but is ever so satisfying.”
This summer has been a busy one for Bjork. Beyond her tour, which stops at Brooklyn’s Keyspan Park Aug. 22-23 (with Sigur Ros opening), she’s promoting the release of three DVDs (video collection “Volumen,” performance disc “Vessel” and compilation bio “Inside Bjork”) and a four-CD boxed set collecting concerts from throughout her career, “Bjork Live,” with an accompanying book.