Mourning Is Broken
Bjork plays on the word “emotional” throughout her set at the White Stage on Sunday night. At first this is the literal pronunciation of the world as she pulls it up and across the night like a string is attached to the “o”, warping it out. It hints at the same word so heavily emphasized in “Joga” not three songs later, but the play is not only aurul, but post-modern – the use of “respect” that comes after briefly hints at Aretha Franklin’s hit, yet the timbre and subject matter of the song suggests a hopelessness in the request – a rallying cry against the powerlessness inherent in rejection. The mood stays much the same for “Lionsong”, the orchestra playing discordant, anxious strings. All the while, producer and collaborator Arca stands at the rear of the stage dropping icy clicks and beats over “Stonemilker” while “Lionsong” takes a massive drum and bass drop – it’s almost clinical in places, weirdly organic in others.
Bjork concludes her Vulnicura Live tour in Japan dressed in a hot pink two-piece suit making her look like a day-glow rag-doll, perhaps a stringless marionette. Where her neck ruff should have encircled her throat, it instead works as a veil against her face, a layer that has become synonymous with the Vulnicura song-cycle, a raw and emotional album detailing the collapse of her long-term relationship. As part of the Vulnicura Live tour, we get to experience many of the Vulnicura songs, not in the CD form but alive, accompanied by avant-garde electronics from Arca and an orchestra. It wouldn’t have worked any other way – these songs needed to be big to close the tour at the Green Stage – and the mixture of classical and modern sounds adds emotional register much as a sound track does to a film, while Arca’s electro glitch brings a chill, clinical edge, something of the post-mortem, which is effectively what we do at the Green Stage this Sunday night – cut open our hearts and bleed out a little.
If that seems a melodramatic description, then it is in keeping with the mood, the songs, the album, the performance. “Joga” is slowed down and emptied into a mix of eerie strings and subtle electronic squeals while up about us on the screens birds of paradise perform their exhausting and frenzied mating rituals. “Unravel” is slowed to a echoed beat, pulled out into breathy susurrations, losing none of the hopefulness of new love in it, but slipping in a nod to the embarrassment in hindsight of romantic naivety.
All of the back-catalog songs are relevant to tonight’s topic. “Isobel” sounds defiant in its soaring strings and arrhythmic beats, perhaps the closest we come to upbeat the whole night. “Bachelorette” and “5 Years” veer between child-like and tense – Bjork’s bouncy dance as she skips about the stage unnervingly at odds with her subject matter.
By the time we return to Vulnicura, things begin to weigh heavy and not a few members of the audience appear weary and exhausted. But such is the nature of the show – it is not meant to be “Big Time Sensuality” and “Best-of” tracks. Having played Fuji Rock so many times affords Bjork the luxury to do as she wishes and avoid the desire to please a generic festival crowd.
The show finishes with an encore of just two songs. “A History of Touches” is the most intimate of songs, if only for its brevity and it’s universality. Yet, we end on “Hyperballad”, a song that seems to bring us full circle back to the beginning of the set. As “Stonemilker” sees Bjork on the precipice of a break-up, so too does “Hyperballad” see us standing on a cliff considering the sound of body breaking on the rocks below. As with that song, we know there was rescue, and so too do we know at the end of this tour that it is time to look to the future. After two years working through these songs, re-engaging, re-shaping and performing them again, there is a catharsis apparent in the exhausted crowd, a group sigh of relief mingled among the shrieks of delight as fireworks light up the sky above the Green Stage.