BJÖRK: VESPERTINE LIVE (2001; 2003)
1) Frosti; 2) Overture; 3) All Is Full Of Love; 4) Cocoon; 5) Aurora; 6) Undo; 7) Unravel; 8) I've Seen It All; 9) An Echo, A Stain; 10) Generous Palmstroke; 11) Hidden Place; 12) Pagan Poetry; 13) Harm Of Will; 14) It's Not Up To You; 15) Unison; 16) It's In Our Hands.
The only reason not to own this album is if you own the Live At The Royal Opera House video from 2001 instead. Although these particular performances were taken from different locations on the 2001 tour, and there are some discrepancies in the setlist (somewhat expectedly, the audio album focuses more on new material, whereas the video includes a solid selection of older hits at the end), they are more or less the same thing — and this time around, the emphasis was placed more on accurate reproduction, accompanied with some gorgeous staging, so it really really makes a lot of sense to see the show rather than just hear it.
Because Vespertine was, indeed, a very special album for Björk, and the accompanying tour was a very special tour. In two years time, the lady would be completely going off her rocker, trying out fifty different shades of craziness all at once and, as far as my opinion is concerned, severely crossing the line that separates meaningful art from silly, pompous kitsch. But Vespertine was a deep, thoughtful, far-reaching album, and the accompanying shows somehow managed to be glitzy and «cozy-homely» at the same time. You get just one change of clothing — Björk in a simple white virginal dress for the first half of the show, Björk in a blood-red dress for the second half — a nice chamber orchestra, a couple guys handling the electronics, and an entire female choir from Greenland, in arguably the biggest bout of promotion for lovely Inuit ladies that the world of pop music has ever seen. Then again, it doesn't take much to travel from Iceland to Greenland, so perhaps it was more a question of rehearsal logistics than of generous support for minorities, or of an artistic choice of a group of people from the coldest regions on Earth.
The setlist on the album includes most of Vespertine (all but two tracks) and also makes us remember Selmasongs (the orchestra introduces the show with ʽOvertureʼ, and later on you get a solo Björk performance of ʽI've Seen It Allʼ — something of a bonus for those of us who find it harder to cope with the vocal philosophy of Thom Yorke than with that of Guthmund's daughter), plus a couple of rarities: ʽGenerous Palmstrokeʼ is a lovely B-side in the form of a heated dialog between Björk and the harp, and ʽIt's In Our Handsʼ was a special new song recorded as a bonus track for Greatest Hits — not all that great in itself, but heavily experimental, with some of the most turbulent and dense layers of electronics on any given Björk song, and it probably belongs in the collection of any serious «glitch music» lover, provided love for «glitch music» can really be called a «serious thing» (really).
The rarities, however, are not as important as the entire experience: both on the video and on the live album, the sound is engineered so as to maximally preserve the «cocoon-like» atmosphere of Vespertine. This was probably not an easy task, but it was accomplished perfectly — and for once, I am not complaining that the live performances are more often than not indistinguishable from studio versions, because the biggest surprise, perhaps, is that you completely forget that these are live ones, until they die down and the stunned audience bursts into applause. For a near-perfect record like Vespertine, this live perfectionism is perhaps the only way to do it justice. In fact, sometimes the live versions are even more perfect — for instance, ʽUnisonʼ, with additional crystal-clear harp parts and more prominent background vocals, sounds as if the necessary final touches to the song were only added in concert.
I mean, it would be one thing if the original arrangements were a piece of easy cake, but they were actually more complex than anything prior to that point — and it is amazing how everything was taken to the stage and even slightly improved upon; and I do understand that only the best live takes were hand-picked from the tour, as far as Björk's own vocals go, but the fact of the matter is that she was consistently in peak form on the video as well. Hardest working lady in the business? In addition to being the most talented? I guess you could say, yes, that 2000-2001 belonged to Björk, and the current thumbs up will refer not just to the textbook perfection of this live album, but to this album as a symbol of her creative triumph. Too bad the strain was so heavy on her that she went gaga in two years' time, and was never the same after that.