Extended strings cascaded down from stage scaffolding, each intensifying the electric anticipation rising up from the crowd. The murmurs and mumbles of human magnetism accompanied the animalistic noise emanating from the wings, a mixture of chirping and lush activity. Hundreds of people sat in preserved shock in San Francisco’s Chase Center on Feb. 5, awaiting acclaimed Icelandic icon Björk.
A community of 19 members took to the stage in bold announcement and began harmonizing an a cappella, poetic proclamation that spoke to the evening’s theme: the dire need to combat human-caused climate change. Tonality, the Los Angeles-based choir, took its leave, and the stage’s fringe tantalizingly teased the audience as Björk’s siren cry seeped through the strings.
When the spotlight hit the singer, a cheer erupted from the crowd as the star floated into public gaze in a spheric, opaque dress by Noir Kei Ninomiya, a neon blue bodysuit by threeasfour and, of course, a stingray skeletal-inspired headpiece by James Merry.
Björk’s obsession with the intersection of nature and technology came through tenfold in set designer Chiara Stevenson’s encapsulating sculptural stage. Two mushroomlike platforms bloomed from the stage floor, their gills lit up and bespeckled with elongated white spikes. The spikes turned out to be instrument stands, ready for the brief reprieves that Viibra, an Icelandic septet of flutists, would take throughout the evening — although this was rare as the accompanying musicians almost never broke their embouchure.
Running about 110 minutes, the evening’s repertoire included variegated tracks pulled from Björk’s staggering discography. Despite the extreme concert duration, Björk harnessed attention through her impeccable vocals, both enticing and intoxicating, which never faltered despite the physical intensity her songs require.
For renditions of relics such as “Pagan Poetry,” Björk curated intimacy with Tonality by her side, the combination of layered voices creating a stacked complexity of sound. Texturally, Björk’s vocals are second to none, and the singer’s raw cries during this track and others such as “Features Creatures,” at times, caused her body to wrench the mic away from her black-lipsticked mouth — perhaps for fear of her own potent potential.
Bewitchingly during “Body Movement,” a large hooped flute descended from the ceiling, and four members of Viibra sat on their knees and played out a continuous note, alternating their breaths to never let the sound break. Björk stood firm in the middle of The Circle Flute, her crisp voice and rolling accent drifting above the windlike wafting tones.
Besides Björk’s captivating singing capacity, the stage also provided great stimulus. Viibra, along with Bergur Thorisson on synth and keys, Manu Delago on hang and percussion and Katie Buckley on harp, wore Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing’s couture collection. Their bodies moved with ribbed capes, feathered pants and endoplasmic reticulum-esque adages. Animated graphics based in bodies and movements — including projections of Björk herself — from the artist Tobias Gremmler, added a video-game-like fantasy element to the experience.
A physical matriarchal dome perched to the side of the stage, a white recording studio hut that ensconced Björk in a hooded fertile shell; the sound from Björk and a pair of flutes inside of the dome reverberated outward from the structure’s few windows; a projected fluid image of a vaginal pattern pulsated on the outside, Björk’s figure housed in this emotive space.
The show offered a quasi-reincarnation of a 2019 artistic residency and tour of Björk’s 2017 album “Utopia” with Venezualian musician and visionary Arca. In a special video message, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg sternly advised the audience to confront climate change before the proven and expected end to humanity. Following the message, Björk returned and sported a honeycomb sculptural shell, patterning pixelated light from the platform. Finishing strong with “Notget,” Björk called the crowd to stand and dance fantastically alongside her.
Cornucopia gave a glimpse into the astonishing universe of Björk’s intellect and creativity. A constellation of avante-garde artistry and important warnings about the abuse of nature’s delicate balance, Cornucopia burned awe and dread into the audience’s collective mind.