All the gigs of my life

All the gigs of my life: Gig 67 – Björk, Saturday, May 24, 2003, Hammersmith Apollo

A weird and wonderful, majestic and emotional gig from Björk.

This was my second time seeing Björk. The first had been almost a decade earlier, at the Big Day Out festival in Perth in January 1994. That had been at the very beginning of my gigging life, when the mere fact of getting to see the bands and singers that meant so much to me was a massive thrill. Nine years later, and 66 gigs behind me in two different countries, I was still not immune to the intense emotional power of seeing an amazing artist live.

This particular gig was somewhat unorthodox, however, for a number of reasons. First, I was somewhat perplexed to discover that my standing ticket meant I was actually positioned behind the seats. From my diary: ‘Weird to be behind the seated multitude, a strange reversal of normal gig ways. Still, the view was good.’

And this was not the only thing that struck me as weird in the opening throes of the night. There was also the support act to contend with. ‘Weirdly godawful support from some avant-garde DJ who delighted us with an hour or so of animal noise, cockney screaming, strange burblings and screeching hardcore techno. It could have been great in an Aphex Twin kinda way. Alas, ‘twas a hellish mess.’

(I was surprised a few days later when perusing the gig reviews on Björk’s website only to discover that it had, in fact, been the Aphex Twin himself on the stage, only under a different name. Clearly I had not kept up to date with all the strange goings on in the underground techno world of the early 00’s.)

But things picked up mightily as soon as the lady herself took the stage. ‘Never mind though! for Björk soon flounced on in a frankly disastrous shocking pink frock and stunned us with “Pagan Poetry”, my fave song off her last album. She’s flanked by a sizable string section and two seriously-suited synth dudes, and the combination of the two sounds is at times incredible.

And Björk herself was in incredible form, mesmerising the crowd from the first moment she started to sing. ‘She’s in fantastic voice, truly powerful, and the crowd is attentive, often not making a sound until the song has reached its very last swoosh or bleep. Which is also quite weird.’

But something even weirder was happening to me that night. Quite unexpectedly, I turned into a bit of an emotional mess as soon as Björk took the stage. ‘For the first several songs, I was completely choked, blinking madly to avoid becoming a weeping wreck. There I was thinking that my appreciation of Björk’s tunes was more intellectual than emotional, and next thing I know I’m furtively brushing tears from my eyelids. Even at the time I didn’t know why. Perhaps it’s because her songs have backgrounded some of my more miserable eras?’

One of my most avid periods of listeng to Björk had been 1995, when “Post” had soundtracked a year of bleak depression. As this was my first time seeing her since then, maybe that’s why I felt so affected by hearing her voice in person. ‘Or perhaps it was just the sheer beauty of a song like “Joga”, those grave strings, those lyrics of overwhelming love. Whichever it was, I managed to compose myself during the gorgeous “All is full of love” and only wibbled slightly once more as “Hyperballad” commenced some time later. And that’s almost definitely because of the ’95 memories.

Once I’d composed myself I was able to pay more attention to the majesty on stage. There were some new songs on the setlist that were comprised of ‘mad techno thrashing genius, one with awesome, soaring vocal leaps and bungee jumps.‘ I began to regret choosing the seated Hammersmith Apollo gig over her other London show of the tour at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, ‘for there it would be possible to leap about like a lunatic in the style these tunes demand. As it was, I’ve rarely seen a crowd more glued to their seats as this lot were tonight, for the main set at least, which ended with the escalating screams of “Pluto” back-dropped by shooting streams of fire and fireworks. It was stunning.’

These visuals had been a particular highlight of the gig. ‘Every now and then a curtain would be drawn at the back of the stage to reveal a multitude of bizarre images: stars with squiggly lines wiggling between them; seal-type creatures that seemed to have hands for tails, Björk seemingly unravelling; a naked (censored) man going totally berserk. It was a very powerful addition to the music – I wished they’d had visuals for every song.’

Once the main set ended, the so-far sedate crowd finally start to come alive. ‘Suddenly the seated throng realise they have feet, standing up and stomping out orders for her return. And yet, most sat down again when she reappeared.’

But now people had been on their feet there was nothing else for it but for me to try and sprint to be as close as possible to the woman who’d been weaving her magic over me for the previous hour and a half, even if everyone else was sitting down again. ‘I was having none of this and dodged my way down to the middle of the aisle now finally filled with revellers (and a hapless staff member trying to get us back to our seats). It was the majestic “Isobel” to finish, with more fireworks coming from strange tree-like structures at the back of the stage at the very end. Despite this, it strangely didn’t feel like an end.’

And that’s how the diary entry ends for my second, and so far last, Björk gig. I will admit to not keeping up with her increasingly esoteric and experimental albums in recent years as much as I should, but maybe it’s time that changed. For if the final moments of my last Björk gig didn’t feel like an end, then surely I must have at least one more ahead of me.

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