BJÖRK: HOMOGENIC LIVE (1997-98; 2003)
1) Vísur Vatnsenda Rósu; 2) Hunter; 3) You've Been Flirting Again; 4) Isobel; 5) All Neon Like; 6) Possibly Maybe; 7) 5 Years; 8) Come To Me; 9) Immature; 10) I Go Humble; 11) Bachelorette; 12) Human Behaviour; 13) Pluto; 14) Jóga; 15) So Broken; 16) Anchor Song.
With the Homogenic project all set to promote Björk as The Great Mother of All, it was obvious that the live show had to make the appropriate adjustments — and so she did, and I don't just mean a bigger light show and more costume changes, but also the musical backing. The Icelandic String Octet followed her on the tour whenever she went, and although I have no idea if the Icelandic String Octet is a real octet (I mean, of the kind that can do Schubert's D.803 and stuff), it is real enough to work out the appropriately grand chamber backing (bordering on symphonic) to songs that were, in the studio, largely dependent on electronics.
This is a terrific move, and although the perfect balance between electronics, strings, and Icelandic pixie voice would not really be reached until Vespertine (both studio and live), it can be argued that the Homogenic songs do not need such perfection in the first place. They are loud, brash, violent songs, after all, where energy and pathos are more important than subtle finesse. And it works: look, for instance, how well the slightly discordant strings compensate for the lack of Vocoder on Björk's «roaring» part in ʽPlutoʼ. There's no roar at all, but the climactic part of the song blows your mind anyway, largely due to the strings.
The actual performances here are culled from numerous shows, geographically stretching from Washington to Prague, and once again covering the Jools Holland show on their way, including a version of ʽJogaʼ with only strings (no beats) that, believe it or not, is every bit as powerful as the studio version — with little to detract you from the monster voice singing about how beautiful it is to be in this state of emergency. The same performance also gives us the rarity ʽSo Brokenʼ, originally the B-side to ʽJogaʼ, where instead of strings we have flamenco guitar — it's probably the closest thing to a wild Spanish ballad that the Icelandic lady has ever produced in her career, not a masterpiece, but a fun curio to hear if you ever wondered how Björk would function in «gypsy mode».
Even the older songs benefit from new touring conditions — for instance, ʽIsobelʼ works much better with strings than with the rather silly accordeon on the preceding tour, and ʽPossibly Maybeʼ has an almost magical sound, just because the cellos add an extra psychedelic dimension to the already enchanting «musical-box» keyboards. ʽCome To Meʼ opens with a solo violin part in the style of 19th century romanticism, which would be cheesy in anybody else's hands, but not in Björk's, who knows very well how to combine «banal» elements with «controversial» ones; as long as she still sings that way, she can quote from Mendelssohn underneath her vocals, beats, and loops as long as she considers necessary.
Overall, this is a total success — most of the songs are at least slightly different from the studio versions, just enough to warrant an extra listen, and on top of that, Björk herself is in peak vocal form, screaming, howling, roaring, crooning, and praying her way through without a single glitch (okay, so these selections were handpicked from a vast number of tapes, so I have no idea how good she could be throughout the entire show — also, her voice does occasionally crack on ʽSo Brokenʼ, but I guess it's a predictable part of the program, given the song's title). There's an occasional touch of humor, too (check out the endearing "tsk-tsk-tsk" ending to the "silly girl, so silly" coda of ʽImmatureʼ), and then there's the final note she takes on the still-obligatory show closer ʽAnchor Songʼ — something utterly inhuman, causing a near-riot in the audience. A natural thumbs up — this is some prime quality live Björk at the peak of her powers.