Three years after debuting her critically acclaimed “Cornucopia” production in New York City, Icelandic alternative icon Bjork brought the show to the Shrine in L.A. for the first of five west coast dates (two more in L.A. — January 29 and February 1 — and two in San Francisco — February 5 and 8).
The visually stunning and ambitious production debuted in New York May of 2019 and then played in Mexico City and select European cities as well in that year before being waylaid, like most live music, by the COVID pandemic.
The three-year gap did nothing to lessen the power, beauty and majesty of the stunning production. Watching the show I was reminded of David Bowie, as high a compliment as you can pay any artist. Though the show was singularly Bjork’s vision, the production was Bowie-esque in its grandiosity and artistic daring.
The nearly two-hour show, which began with a pair of performances from a local choir, was, while visually and musically magnificent, not an easy concert. Like watching a great foreign film, like say a Wim Wenders’ Wings Of Desire or Krystof Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy (Blue, White and Red). “Cornucopia” was thought provoking and challenging. But like those great works of art, the payoff was well worth the work to appreciate and enjoy the show.
To her credit, Bjork asked the sold-out crowd not to take photos and videos because according to a message before the show, it would distract her. And to the crowd’s credit the vast majority of the audience respected her wishes, living in the moment of the production. In a world where most great visual art these days is intended to be “Instagram-able,” the fact that Bjork created a gorgeous visual landscape of lush colors, futuristic screens and enticing images of nature solely for the concert-goers is admirable.
The visual world of “Cornucopia” was a perfect complement to the majestic beauty of the music, which was best summed up by Bjork, who when introducing the musicians, declared, “Flutes rock.” Yes, more inspired by classical than the alternative or electronic she has been associated with in the past, “Cornucopia,” musically was gorgeous, sublime and incredibly sophisticated.
The 19-song set eschewed some of her biggest hits — earlier songs such as “Hyperballad,” “Human Behavior,” “It’s Oh So Quiet” and “Army Of Me” — in favor of more recent material. starting with three tracks, “The Gate,” “Utopia” and “Arisen My Senses,” from 2017’s masterful Utopia album.
While Utopia represented the lion’s share of material, with the aggressive “Sue Me,” the powerful “Blissing Me,” sung with Serpentwithfeeet, and the main set closer, “Tabula Rasa,” among the standouts from Utopia, she did move the setlist between other eras of her career, going as far back as 1993’s Debut for “Venus As A Boy.”
Other musical highlights included “Hidden Places” and “Pagan Poetry,” both off 2001’s Vespertine album; 1995’s “Isobel” and 2015’s “Notget,” which closed the entire night after Bjork introduced the superb musicians she shared the stage with on this memorable night.
Every aspect of the detailed and intricate “Cornucopia” was obviously incredibly deliberate, from the egg on stage she sang in at points to the environmental messages, one about the Paris Accord and one from Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. Part of what made “Cornucopia” so special is the glimpse it offers into the mind of one of the most important artists of the last 25 years. And what it showed, not surprisingly, is an uncompromising work of singular beauty.