The Wang Theatre, Boston: intimate, ornately decorated capsule. There could be no better place to see Björk, Matmos, the 55 piece orchestra, and the 11 person choir perform a set of surreal beauty. I sat in the fourth row of the (only) balcony looking downward, and the stage itself had an innovative lay out resembling a sterile minimalist art installation. Everything white. On the right, there was an electronic set up on a mini-stage with four futuristic lights curving inward to illuminate Matmos’ eclectic set of gear. In the middle stood the choir’s microphones. To the left stood a harp, a pump organ, a Rhodes piano another strange plucked string instrument and perhaps a few other odd pieces of analog music makers. The pit in front of the stage awaited the orchestra.
Matmos opened for Björk with a set that continued the surreal feel of the stage environment. Their first piece involved some sort of electronic sensor being pressed and moved all over one of the Matmos guy’s body. There was a camera and light detailing exactly what was going on as this metal needle-like device seems at points to be almost injected into this guy’s skin. The image is projected onto the screen behind them, and it soon becomes clear that the sensor is generating and controlling one of the sounds being weaved into their first song. The rest of the set was no less full of strange surprises – they clearly wanted to make a memorable impression on all the Björk fans that did not already know about them. The highpoint, perhaps, was using an amplified hamster cage as a string instrument. They rhythmically plucked it, and even bowed it, creating fresh, eerie textures. Their sound is a unique combination of the organic and electronic.
Björk’s set began after a short break. She came out in darkness, sat in the middle of the stage, and began playing a music box toy piano kind of chimey instrument placed on her lap. Petals fell from the sky as a warm orange-yellow light illuminated her area of the stage. From there, the orchestra went into the theme from her movie, Dancer in the Dark. The set continued despite slight technical difficulties with her first full song, ‘All is full of love.’ She was wearing her swan dress, and the illustrations projected at the back of the stage always complimented both the music and her outfit.
Björk’s energy in both sets was uncanny. There is no doubt that she loves what she is doing up there, and her childlike movements and childlike enthusiasm tell all. She dances around as she gets into the grooves of her songs, and when they finish she humbly says “oh sank you” in a high voice that is the embodiment of genius-cute that she has perfected. Perhaps the most impressive and energetic performance of the night (and I did not expect this to be my favorite) was her rendition of the classic Björk-power song, ‘Army of Me’. The rez-filters on the notorious bass-line were being controlled real-time by Matmos, making the already brutal loop even more harsh. But the song was ready for it and so was the set, and it provided a real contrast from the quiet, all-strings ending of the previous song, ‘Hyperballad’. It was at this point that I wished that I could be standing up dancing – instead I restrained myself to convulsing in my seat. (I was amazed at others’ ability to control themselves – nobody stood up. I guess the theatre was just too nice.)
The second set finished with another selection from Dancer in the Dark, ‘I’ve Seen it All’. This track was recorded with Thom Yorke, and part of me started hoping he would be there to sing it. Instead, Björk sang both parts, but sort of changed her position and expression in order to emphasize the distinction. She offered two encores (including a nice acoustic version of Joga that left me craving that bassy drum pattern) and then the night was over. Definitely a passion-filled, surprise-filled, Björk-Matmos-night of imaginative sounds and imagery.