The Communion of High Holy Björk


“I’ve been living in a tent for four days and thinking life can’t get any worse,” blared the American girl in line behind us—who, by the way, had visibly (and olfactorily) been living in a tent for four days. “And then this happened!” she blared. “I can’t believe we are here! I can’t believe we are actually here!”

Polish, German, French, Finnish, Tagalong—although I might not have been able to recognize it, I have a hunch this sentiment was echoed by other tourists up and down the extensive line snaking out the door of Langholtskirkja Church. Our Lady of Icelandic Music, Björk frikkin’ Gudmundsdóttir, was holding an exclusive 300-person concert in a small church in the burbs of Reykjavík.

These travelers lucked out. How often does Queen Elizabeth swing open the doors of Buckingham and sing a few ditties (in gold and pink sequin nonetheless)? How often does the Pope surprise Vatican City visitors with an impromptu session of his greatest hits (with a ten-piece all-girl brass band nonetheless)?

On a lazy Saturday morning over coffee and back episodes of Prison Break, Gísli was pouring over the paper and saw a tiny notice for a 300-seat “unplugged” concert on Tuesday… with Björk. But when you are the de facto potentate, empress and czarina of all things cool in Iceland, you don’t need much more than three days.

Indeed, when the tickets went on sale at 10:00 am on Monday morning, most fans had commenced clicking by 10:00:01, and my sources tell me the concert was sold out well before 11:00. And at ISK 6,000 (USD 75, EUR 50), how can you pass up such a bargain.

But the ticket sales weren’t actually the reason for this concert. The entire performance was filmed and will be released as a DVD (so don’t feel bad if you weren’t along). But the fact that it was recorded means that there was very little “unplugged” about this session. In fact, the sanctuary was crawling with wires, cameramen, microphones and Mark Bell’s computer equipment.

However, once Björk’s all-girl Icelandic brass band stepped on stage and began playing the haunting brass chorale overture from Selma Songs, all the wires and gadgetry seemed to disappear.

The set was just. There was an odd pipe organ arrangement of “Cover Me” as well as reworked versions of “Immature” and “Dull Flame of Desire.” The Langholtskirkja choir sang along for “Vökuró” (with an added harpsichord), “Who Is It” and “Submarine” (which blew everyone away with brass, organ, choir and Björk twitching, craning, bobbing and spinning like she does). Everyone was wowed when for her encore she took “It’s Oh So Quiet,” which hasn’t been heard for about a decade.

The show was worth every króna, every wire, every reeking tent-dweller, but the highlight of the show was definitely “Mouth’s Cradle,” a rather difficult song with erratic beats and complicated syncopation. Björk just couldn’t get it right and kept on losing her place in the song.

The audience cringed and beatboy Mark Bell simply closed his eyes and attempted to send dispatches of good tempo to the woman at the front of the stage.

At the end of the show she steps back on stage to take another whack at “Mouth’s Cradle” with the choir and brass and Bell. “We got mixed up, but you can do that with a DVD.” And they launched into the song again. Better, but still not quite right.

Sometimes mistakes embarrass you. Sometimes they humble you. And sometimes mistakes transubstantiate the body and blood of an international music icon into a girl trying her best to do something really difficult. It was in the Langholtskirkja church in the outlying neighborhoods of Reykjavík that the divine became human.

What a show. Amen.

JM – [email protected]

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.