For reasons unbeknownst, by Sunday morning we still hadn’t gone swimming in Reykjavik. This is an essential Icelandic pastime boys & girls, involving lounging in geothermically heated outdoor “hotpot” pools and maybe doing one or two lengths. Regardless of the weather. And just after our 10am Sunday checkout (we were leaving at 4am on Monday morning, no need for a bed!) seemed the ideal time to rectify the situation. This was also when I decided to have an acute attack of the “oh-my-god-these-icelanders-must-be-sick-of-all-these-foreign-idiots-pretending-they’re-icelandic-for-a-week” and got a bit grumpy, despite the lovely pool at Vesturbæjarlaug with the hottest steam room Kate & Jamie said they’d ever been in (wimps).
But the Icelanders we were sharing a hotpot with were very nice to us (as they always seem to be), and I felt much better when we saw an entire non-Icelandic band, wrapped up in coats, hats and scarves, doing a photoshoot and interview at the poolside. At least we weren’t doing that.
Feeling much better for my dip in the warm eggy pool and shower (it’s very comforting, and amazing for the skin), we still had a few hours to kill before our next gig (Cheek Mountain Thief at Kex), so with trepidation (due to its reputation as Reykjavik’s only tourist trap), we walked to The Pearl, a rotating restaurant with panoramic views, a fake geyser and and expensive menu.
It was actually not bad – the middle-floor cafe isn’t too expensive and there are wonderful views (as well as the shit fake geyser):
We arrived early for the gig at Kex to indulge in one of their “big beers”
and even bumped into Mike Lindsay (the Cheek Mountain Thief himself) who told us a bit about his move to Iceland, and more importantly compared beards with Jamie.
BUT NOW! Björk was playing Harpa! And I had a ticket! What was going to be in store? Once I’d made it to Harpa (I nearly got blown into the moat the wind was so strong) I found my way to the Silfurberg room.
Not so easy, as each person was stopped and asked not to take photos when our tickets were checked, and the first 3 doors were reserved for the (even more expensive) seated ticket-holders, for that added tradesman feel. But Silfurberg itself was surprisingly intimate, with the stage in the centre and a tiered and roomy standing area. I met up with my friends Gabriel & Ilan who’d been to see the show on the Wednesday too – they’d bagged a priority spot behind the drummer who was, they assured me “fit”. (I couldn’t disagree, purely from an aesthetic point of view of course. Hi Jamie). We could also clearly see the upturned woks (a “hang”) and big twisty guillotiney thing (a pendulum-harp) that Mark had described. Gabriel pointed out where the Tesla Coil would appear from. Joachim arrived in the nick of time, just before the lights dimmed and Björk’s choir filed on stage, closely followed by Björk in her huge orange wig.
Having made a point of not hearing Biophilia before the live show (I don’t have an iphone or ipad and wanted the horses mouth experience), it was exactly the sort of bonkers but perfect concept performance you would expect. There are big screens showing the visuals from the relevant apps all around the stage, projected on both sides so you can see everything from wherever you were. Björk and her choir filled the stage, playing to all sides in rotation, and Gabriel said Björk seemed much more relaxed and into the performance than the previous Wednesday, which we could tell from the cheeky grins she threw at the audience.
On the screens, ‘Moon”s moon waxed and waned through its cycle with every beat of the xylophone. One of my favourites was ‘Crystalline’ – just watching the choir dance in crystalline formation was a joy to behold, the notes of the song perfectly echoing – well crystalline things. Maybe it brought back a bit of chemistry geekery in me, I don’t know. My other Biophilia highlight was ‘Mutual Core’, an ode to the effect tectonic plates have on our lives. It starts off with Björk singing solo the least likely, unpoetic lyrics you would ever expect in a song, like A-level geography revision to music (“the Atlantic Ridge drifts, to counteract distance…”). Bonkers quotient filled. But then the song explodes in crescendo, the choir joins in, the stage erupts with vibrancy, the screens drip with volcanic lava, IT ALL MAKES PERFECT SENSE ON SO MANY LEVELS.
There were a few non-Biophilia songs too, highlights for me being Isobel, and Declare Independence, proper dance around and get caught up in the moment numbers. So was it worth queueing for a free ticket, getting turned away, and ending up paying fifty five quid anyway? Yes. For me at least, it was more about seeing the performance as a whole, than “seeing some Björk songs live”. She does kind of hide away to a certain extent behind her costume and choir, and only speaks between songs to say thanks and to introduce her fellow performers. But it’s a breathtaking pleasure to watch how each song is put together, with such originality, attention to detail and vibrancy. What a show.