Her voice wasn’t hid­den

A masked Björk brings strings, but no dig­i­tal mu­sic, to her con­cert at Dis­ney Hall.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - MIKAEL WOOD POP MU­SIC CRITIC mikael.wood@la­times.com Twit­ter: @mikael­wood

Björk didn’t need to open her mouth to in­spire wild cheers of de­vo­tion — and at least one shout of “I love you!” — from the ca­pac­ity crowd gath­ered to see her per­form Tues­day night at Walt Dis­ney Con­cert Hall.

Walk­ing on­stage wear­ing an elab­o­rate face mask and a gown that looked to be made of vinyl and tulle, the beloved Ice­landic vo­cal­ist re­ceived what might’ve been the row­di­est wel­come ever wit­nessed in this stately down­town venue.

Once she started singing, though, the place in­stantly qui­eted — so much so that her plat­form boots could be heard shuf­fling across the stage.

The con­trast­ing re­ac­tions suited an artist as drawn to ex­tremes as Björk, who found un­likely pop suc­cess in the mid-1990s be­fore turn­ing to in­creas­ingly es­o­teric work like 2004’s mostly a cap­pella “Medúlla” al­bum and “Bio­philia,” a na­turethemed 2011 pack­age of songs and apps.

For Tues­day’s show, which Björk said would be her fi­nal con­cert be­hind 2015’s “Vul­ni­cura,” the singer was ac­com­pa­nied by an orches­tra of 32 string play­ers; the idea was a re­fram­ing of her mu­sic mi­nus the thump­ing club beats and weird elec­tronic sounds she’s used for decades (in­clud­ing on “Vul­ni­cura,” which ex­am­ines the end of her long ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship with the artist Matthew Bar­ney).

Yet there was no mis­tak­ing the per­for­mance for some kind of de­nounce­ment of the dig­i­tal age.

For one thing, the gig hap­pened in con­nec­tion with a mul­ti­me­dia ex­hi­bi­tion, housed through Sun­day at the nearby Reef event space, of vir­tual-re­al­ity video art set to songs from “Vul­ni­cura”; for an­other, Björk will be back in Los An­ge­les in July for a head­lin­ing set at FYF Fest that she’s said will fea­ture the elec­tronic mu­si­cian Arca.

So it was clear this ver­sion of the singer wasn’t meant to sup­plant some ear­lier ver­sion. Club-kid Björk was still out there, you un­der­stood, as were show­tune Björk and torch-song Björk and ex­per­i­men­tal-noise-ter­ror­ist Björk — a re­as­sur­ing prospect at a mo­ment when many artists, es­pe­cially fe­male ones, are en­cour­aged to­ward sim­pli­fied pre­sen­ta­tions eas­ily cap­tured on so­cial me­dia.

Then again, maybe the knowl­edge of those other Björks worked against the woman do­ing her thing at Dis­ney Hall.

Though she’s ef­fec­tive in even the most lim­ited set­ting, the singer is at her best when she’s draw­ing on the breadth of her skills and in­ter­ests, as on her clas­sic 1995 al­bum “Post,” which sets her one-of-a-kind voice against all man­ner of ar­range­ments, from house to hip-hop to old­fash­ioned movie-mu­si­cal pop.

Here she kept ad­just­ing her vo­cal de­liv­ery to re­flect the in­fi­nite emo­tion in her mu­sic: heart­break in “His­tory of Touches” and worry over hav­ing dis­rupted her child’s home life in “Fam­ily,” both from “Vul­ni­cura”; wideeyed be­wil­der­ment in “I’ve Seen It All” and “Joga”; the ten­sion be­tween lust and love in “Bach­e­lorette,” with its vi­sion of “a foun­tain of blood in the shape of a girl.”

Phys­i­cally, too, she was pow­er­fully ex­pres­sive, stretch­ing her head back or jut­ting out her arms to put across feel­ings that oth­er­wise would’ve re­mained hid­den be­hind that mask.

Yet the orches­tra’s back­ing made the songs seem woe­fully sim­i­lar, with far less range of sen­sa­tion than they ac­tu­ally con­tain; all those saw­ing strings had a flat­ten­ing ef­fect that grew only more pro­nounced as the con­cert wore on.

By the end of the night, as she sang “Pluto” — one of her most thrillingly ag­gres­sive club tracks as ren­dered on her al­bum “Ho­mogenic” — you couldn’t help but won­der where rave-war­rior Björk was, and if she might make an ap­pear­ance.

Pho­to­graphs by San­ti­ago Felipe

AC­COM­PA­NIED by an orches­tra at Walt Dis­ney Con­cert Hall, Björk sings in an elab­o­rate mask and gown.

SHE pow­er­fully ex­pressed feel­ings that could have been ob­scured be­hind a mask.

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