Live music review: Bjork, Airwaves Festival, Iceland

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Live music review: Bjork, Airwaves Festival, Iceland

You could hear an icicle melt in anticipation of Bjork coming on stage last Saturday. Headlining the five-day Iceland Airwaves music festival, fans of all ages gathered in the luxurious Eldborg concert hall of Reykjavik’s Harpa hall for this special homecoming gig.

A 31-one string section of the Icelandic Philharmonic orchestra sat in an arc as the petite figure walked on stage, and with no introduction launched into songs from her last album Vulnicura. Heart wrenching, intense, visceral, her phrasing and clearly articulated words (all in English) were classic Bjork. Her deeply personal ‘History of Touches’ was heartbreaking. The beautifully arranged opulent strings smoothed the plaintiff sounds, leaving the audience stunned.

An intermission served to allow the fashionably under-dressed audience to unwind and compare to other performances.

“All of her concerts are completely different,” one local fan told me. “The last one was all electronics. This is more pared down and cannot be compared, except that it’s also amazing.”

Icelanders are proud of their international star. Other musicians and Bjork’s mother stood in the crowd. No-one takes selfies. It’s not cool.

A change of dress from short red with glistening ruff collar to long blue gown, a stiff veil covering her face, the second half started with the sparkly feel of ‘Aurora’ from her 2001 Vespertine album followed by the syncopated ‘I’ve Seen It All’. At last Bjork spoke, in English, warmly introducing the orchestra.

A smooth version of ‘Pluto’, from her 1997 Homogenic album, was the encore of a more varied second half. Fans left sated. Exhausted.

PJ Harvey and Dizzee Rascal were among the other international acts on the festival bill. John Lydon also opened the Reykjavik Punk Museum in a converted lavatory block, but many of the most interesting acts at this relaxed festival were local.

Clothes shops, bars, cafés, galleries and museums hosted artists such as the 16 women-strong ‘fem cees’ rap collective Reykjavikurdaetur (Daughters of Reykjavik), who contrasted with Tonik Ensemble’s techno sounds and the more melodic rock band Mammut. A feast of good music. Plan now for next year.

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