It’s been more than two decades since Björk’s once-maligned, now-revered Marjan Pejoski “swan dress” became the talk of the 73rd Academy Awards red carpet, and since then her way-left-of-center proclivities have become more and more commonplace. Kanye West wearing a mask while performing the seismic Yeezus Tour? Lady Gaga’s meat outfit? Katy Perry’s singing, phallic mushrooms during her Vegas residency and latest “SNL” performance? All seem directly sprung from the Icelandic singer’s performance art universe. But how can Björk herself grow and innovate now that pop culture has caught up?
The answer, made clear in her lush stage piece “Cornucopia,” is to dive deeper into her obsessions than ever before. The show largely reimagines Björk’s 2017 album “Utopia,” twisting the batch of love songs into a plea for the environment. In the final night of a three-night stand at L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium Tuesday night, dressed as fluffy clouds until the encore, Björk twirled and danced around a crowded stage filled with flautists, a harpist, a choir and a cutting-edge light spectacular which painted the Shrine’s gorgeous interior with morphing floral and fauna, some real, some imagined, some merging with Björk’s masked face.
As the band— which included hypnotic percussion from Manu Delago and dense arrangements courtesy of musical director Bergur Porisson — moved around the stage for each song, it evoked faeries pirouetting through the forest, more ethereal in movement than, say, David Byrne’s lo-fi marching band in “American Utopia.” As the lights ebbed and flowed for every performance, new staging was examined like a shiny toy. An early-show performance of “Utopia” standout “The Gate” first hinted at the atonal destruction that could devastate this gorgeous world, flutes and electronic stings all striking against Björk’s never-rawer voice. There was a restorative egg-shaped house that Björk would sometimes dip in to to give a heart-wrenching performance, away from the madness swirling around. Sometimes she was low, emoting to a towering choir almost drowning out her vocals. Other times she was elevated, singing for the audience and dancing like nobody was watching, grooving to the industrial drums and ambient noise like she was at a rave in “FernGully.”
Although the spotlight was on the world of “Utopia,” the piece occasionally dipped into to thematically relevant hits from Björk’s back catalogue, such as “Vespertine” opener “Hidden Place” and “Debut” standout “Venus as a Boy.” Reconfigured fan favorites added to the underlying discomfort of the show, anytime otherness layered on the mind and body experience; off-key crowd warbles singing along to “Pagan Poetry” only added another layer of dissonance. Singer Serpentwithfeet, dressed in a crisp suit, stepped out for a blistering “Blissing Me” duet that sounded like crossed radio wires from another dimension. Even the belly-deep feel of bass that rattled seats or strobes so bright they forced eyes closed were key parts of this decadent, poison-glazed feast for the senses at Planet Björk. And while a projected speech from environmental activist Greta Thunberg during the encore brought the production to a sobering conclusion, it’s nice to imagine that the key to saving the environment is to run around an enchanted forest with Björk.
“Cornucopia” will be performed at San Francisco’s Chase Center on Feb. 5 and Feb. 8.