NEW YORK Björk ran hot and cold at her performance at Radio City Music Hall Thursday evening, and both climates were ideal.
What began as a sophisticated recital of Björk's most chilling songs a good number of which stemmed from her quiet, introspective new album, Vespertine heated up during the second set, where she elevated the audience along with the tempo. She burned brightest during "It's in Our Hands," a new song she premiered in the encore.
With a 54-piece orchestra before her, an 11-woman choir behind, and flanked by avant-garde harpist/accordionist Zeena Parkins and electronic experimental duo Matmos (who earlier served as opening act), Björk alternately cooed and belted through the Vespertine tracks "Harm of Will," "It's Not Up to You" and "Hidden Place," as well as the solemn "I've Seen It All" from last year's "Dancer in the Dark" companion album, Selmasongs. Icy, blue-hued images of snow drifts and stalactites were projected on a backdrop, further emphasizing the mood. Her powerful voice filled the legendary venue's cavernous interior, often drowning out her onstage constituents. (Click here for photos from Thursday night's show.)
In a ruffled white dress that absorbed the cool lighting, Björk came to life as the show progressed. During the opening song, "Frosti," her only movement was cranking a music box beneath two lone spotlights. By the end of the 45-minute first set, she was as animated as anyone familiar with her videos knows she can be. Pacing the length of Radio City's grand stage in stocking feet, her mannerisms reflected the sentiment of the songs, from withered pleas to empowering struts.
Following an intermission, Björk and company reemerged in much warmer surroundings. Blue lights gave way to red, and wintry images were replaced by bizarre illustrations of what could have been microscopic sea life. The pace of the second half, along with that of its songs, also quickened. The fervor built on "You've Been Flirting Again" and "Isobel," both from 1995's Post, and by the time she launched into "Hyper-Ballad," the crowd could no longer obey Radio City's "no standing" rule, much to the dismay of ushers who stormed the aisles insisting everyone sit down.
The crowd couldn't be blamed for their enthusiasm when the object of it was more riled up than they were. Clad now in a fluffy red skirt made of huge feathers, Björk still shoeless was enraptured by her upbeat anthems, prancing, shimmying and shuffling her feet between fits of violent head shaking during the second-set closers "Army of Me" and "Bachelorette."
The fever pitch peaked during the final number of the two-song encore, a new tune "It's in Our Hands." In line with its title, the song began with the choir, composed of Greenland Eskimos, playing the child's game patty-cake. The tandem handclaps soon gave rise to a stuttering rhythm that the crowd was quick to adopt. The song, meanwhile, was signature Björk, with soaring and cascading vocals atop Matmos' house beats.
For their opening set, San Francisco's Matmos performed while most of the audience was still filtering in, delayed by stricter security measures implemented by Radio City. Those who caught the pair were mostly perplexed by their performance of songs seemingly devoid of melody, with rhythms that took some time to materialize. Using metal spokes and oversized balloons, among other things, as instruments, Martin C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel floated strange sounds atop their electronic beats, though their adventurousness wasn't totally lost on those who "got it," or at least pretended they did.
For a feature interview with Björk, check out "Björk's Home Cookin' ".