Nobody knows what to do about Björk when she’s in Iceland: she’s kind of like the 80-pound elephant in the room. You imagine someone is going to gush, someone is going to stare, but with her around, few people are thinking of much else. For this reason, it was best that Björk went on early on January 7th, playing second in a lengthy line-up. There was no time for anticipation, nor was she going to burn up all the air in the building.
Showing up with harpist Zeena Parkins, Björk began with a delicate Icelandic number from Medúlla, Vigil. With a refrain of Bærinn Minn, the song’s reference to pastoral qualities seemed apropos and polite for the evening.
Receiving a warm, if somewhat cautious applause, she followed with an a capella English-language song. While I was unfamiliar with the song, and while the English may have been lost to Björk’s delivery, the short, scale-climbing number was a remarkable performance. Much is made of Björk’s diminutive size working in contrast to her overwhelming vocal power… for good reason. Climbing the scale and losing the words, Björk moved from polite if shy host to displaying such obvious confidence and ability, such a clear vocal presence, that her voice seemed a force of nature. Standing among a crowd of proud protestors, I couldn’t help hoping that this was a model for the political future of Iceland: if those who were silent but polite could suddenly open up and put forward something with the resonance of Björk’s voice, I imagined at that moment, the world would listen.
For a close, Björk was accompanied by a virtuoso performance on harp, and she moved into more personal territory on her vocals, with the somewhat bold stylings of her second number now shifting from political to a declaration of intimacy.
Had Björk performed another number, the concert would have only been remembered for her. As it was, she snuck off the stage, destroying only Múm’s chance at connecting with the audience, as the audience still had Björk on the brain. But by the time Sigur Rós came on, the crowd was ready to move on. They could either think about Björk, or they could think about the other music.
Strangely, when I interviewed the crowd after the entire concert, the majority sited RASS, Ham or Egó as the favourite of the night. When I asked about Björk, every one said something similar to what Óli Palli, main DJ at Rás 2 told me, “Oh, yes, of course Björk was amazing. I had forgotten she performed at the same concert.”