Hammersmith Eventim Apollo, London
There are risks in performing particularly tender or minimal music to thousands of people on a Saturday night. Attention spans waver, drunken bar orders are overheard and the sight of so many iPhone screens can be disenchanting.
But if anyone can captivate an inevitably drunken crowd, it’s Björk, who manages to make the vast majority of the audience at her second sold-out London show of the week commit to awe-struck silence. It’s evidently a crowd of attentive superfans – one audience member has even replicated a 2015 Björk stage outfit, wearing a dress fashioned with bright yellow fabric and a precarious-looking plastic replica of her dandelion helmet which she has to carefully lift to take sips from her drink. But while 99% of the crowd respectfully refrain from chatting over the music, the applause in between songs is at the kind of volume you’d expect at a football match.
With the orchestra settled in their seats and the lights dimmed, Björk first takes to the stage wearing a white dress which responds to UV lighting, and a headpiece designed by James Merry which illuminates her in the darkness like a firefly. Opening with Stonemilker, the order of the first six songs of the setlist is nearly identical to the Vulnicura tracklisting. The musical palette of the album is largely compromised of strings and experimental electronic drum programming, and when the songs are presented with a purely orchestral musical set-up, the naked emotion of Björk’s lyrics is intensified, and the trills of her Icelandic accent are ever-so-slightly more pronounced than they are on record.
Following an anxiety-ridden rendition of Notget, a half hour interval is called. It’s a necessary break – the songs have been almost overwhelmingly intense at times, and the crowd seemed to get restless during the rendition of Vulnicura’s 10 minute-long centre-piece Black Lake, mistaking the gaps in the music for the song’s ending and breaking into premature rounds of applause. The second part of the show – for which Björk has switched to a shoes blood red dress by Portuguese designer David Ferreira – allows a few non-Vulnicura songs into the set, including Vespertine track Aurora and Homogenic singles Jóga and Bachelorette.
The show’s two-song encore climaxes with Homogenic song Pluto, for which the orchestra reinvent the original track’s abrasive electronica by striking their strings with hostility. “Thank you for your interest,” Björk says to the crowd, with almost comical levels of modesty. Like many things with the Icelandic artist, it sounds like a whisper, but the reaction to it is very, very loud.