This is not just a review of Björk’s Cornucopia but my overall concert experience at the Chase center.
“Performance artist”, is such an odd term because are not all musicians who get up on stage on some level performance artists and yet that word tends to bring to mind people in an art gallery or some indie theater with one person writhing in fabric while somebody plays music on kitchen appliances in a piece about misogyny. Or you get a former porn star to read her teenage diary while allowing people walk up to the stage and look at her cervix. One of those I made up the other I actually saw.
And what I saw at Chase center felt more like a chamber piece for a flute ensemble in a hall than a “rock concert”. Not that Björk was ever considered “rock” but you know what I mean. I hope there is a live CD/DVD so I can take it in again at home because it was beautiful but, as with Opera, I didn’t understand a damn thing she was singing (outside a few very important bits I will get to later). She was singing in English to be clear and the sound mix from my angle was not half-bad but if you’ve heard her music, you know her inflections. Also, I am not a super fan or really even a casual fan so I don’t know her lyrics well. I went because it was Björk and for me that’s like seeing Ray Charles, Nana Mouskouri, Prince, Van Halen… you do it for the whole spectacle, mythology, legacy of the person and their place in music. So if the chance arises… go. You certainly will not come out worse for it.
Anyway, me not understanding her vocals proved rather irrelevant because by the second piece, Utopia,I just sort of settled into the show as a musical experience of art more than one hit after the other (and from what I understand she avoided the hits more or less entirely in favor of more pressing matters about the environment and working towards that utopia). I just let the music drape over me even when I danced. And this, by all accounts was not a show to dance to. As I said she skipped the hits bits, with the bulk of the songs coming from her 2017 album Utopia. An album I have never listened to but am now intrigued with as the music clearly seemed designed for a live setting.
Also, having come of age in the peak of the new age CD boom with acts like Deep Forest, Adiemus, Enya and others I am used to lyrics I can’t understand. But let’s be clear the music was not some “new age” stroll through a magical glen… It sounded at times more modern art and avant-garde than anything typically new agey or even pop.
And to be blunt, it was beautiful. I was moved. The opening with vocal group Tonality was so stellar that I could’ve taken just that and been satisfied. The piece was an arrangement of the speech given by Greta Thunburg at the U.N.’s climate change summit. I understood a few phrases being sung in the opening, “people are dying” and “the young people are trying to understand”. Phrases, that would be repeated in the piece. I almost cried. Partly the music, but also emotionally I’m a mess right now and when I get this kind of authentic raw music injected into me, it does what it is supposed to do. The choir ensemble done with the opening led to the arrival of the band and the lady of the evening who started out by singing the phrase “I care about you” over and over, lyrics from the opening song “The Gate”. Behind a gauze curtain that had various projections of nebulous and organic shapes that would become flower, bird, and human-like as the show went on (visuals done by artist Tobias Gremmler). After a while the projected visuals started to feel tedious to me aside from a few well choreographed moments such as during Arisen My Senses where tendril like strands curled and swayed to the music. So I’d argue less would’ve been more.
The stage was also organic in design, constructed of shelf mushrooms or shelf coral with a sort womb, egg resonating chamber on the right side of the stage that Björk would retreat to on occasion and sing from.
Now, I need to confess I loathe stadium/arena shows. Also to warn you this next bit is going to become a little bit of a hit job on ticketmaster. They’ve earned it. Anyway big shows are just not my tea anymore. Expensive, bloated, more theatrics and lights than music. All with a who knows who of fans, people with FOMO, people going for the instagram, and people with money to throw away. It’s almost always a hassle to get in and out. And usually because of the price I am in the rafters and the energy of the music has drifted off into the ether by the time it gets to my seat.
For example: I saw The Cure at Shoreline a few years back in the lawn section and people were literally sleeping on blankets on the lawn. SLEEPING. And others were filming the jumbotron. I like an audience that dances and sings along, gets hyped, gets lost in the music. I found out later all the “real” fans of The Cure were down by the stage. Also 99% of live shows I go to, I wait until the day of to get tickets. It has never failed and I’ve have had some surprise perks because of it. Once, at the Freight and Salvage I was given a ticket on the house. Often times, I just end up meeting cool people selling an extra ticket.
The ads all claimed the Friday show was sold out but I’ve done enough research on concert marketing to know it was not sold out in the least. And further research on ticketmaster’s own website confirmed this. But I decided to wait until the day of the cheaper Tuesday show for prices from scalpers and second hand sellers to drop. I also glanced at one review just to see if it was a thumbs up and peeped a couple comments from Björk die hards on reddit. The reviews seemed on the positive side. So I decided if I go, I’m going to be on the floor close to the stage. I want the music in my face. I don’t want to see it on the jumbotron. This meant splurging. Some tickets were going for 500+ but on the day of I found a face value isle seat one the floor for 195 +fees. This meant ultimately, $249. I was prepared for this. But what I was not prepared for was the ancestral music spirits in my family watching out for me. In a weird and glorious twist of fate upon trying to purchase my loner ticket on the isle, this message from ticketmaster popped upped in my face:
“You’ve left one seat stranded at the end of a row or stuck between selected seats. Please leave at least two empty seats together.”
I had never encountered this before. Did they not want to make money off me? I was momentarily incensed and infuriated. Calling the 800 line would’ve be pointless at this point. But now I was DETERMINED to go out of spite towards ticketmaster and get the damn seat I WANTED. I prefer going to the box office anyway. So off I went. And lo and behold it was a breeze to get the very ticket I had wanted on-line AND it was only $200 (technically 199.50).
So- Ticketmaster did not get their $50 price markup. Sorry, I meant convenience fees, because I couldn’t buy it on-line. This was an unexpected glorious turn of events. Now, I’ve read enough books and listened to enough talking heads that I know the deal. The story goes, ticketmaster takes the heat for the fees so the artist can charge less for the tickets. Good cop, bad cop.
If that were true then WHY were my fees at the box office merely five dollars but on-line $50. Also I should note the fees per ticket increase the more tickets you buy and the higher the price of the ticket the higher the fees. Which, is more BS because it does not cost more money to process a front row seat than a back row seat. The ticket at face value was the same price either way. Also, shoutout to the lady with pink hair working the desk for giving me the ticket price with fees included first, then breaking it down AND overriding the stupid stranded seat nonsense and getting me that isle seat.
So as I said, my musical ancestors were with me and saved me $50.
Getting in and out of the Chase Center was rather painless and Muni drops off right in front. It’s a sports arena first concert venue second so the seats are folding chairs on the floor. That didn’t bother me. And all the staff I dealt with were just a pleasure. I really wanted to give my helper at the ticket booth a tip but they don’t allow it, which peeves me. The sound for the venue was great once they got some early tweaks done. I don’t know if that was the venue or Björk’s team but whoever worked the audio certainly made the music fit the space properly from where I was seated anyway. I had plans to wander around during the show and catch it from different angles to see how it felt up high vs down low. From the side or the center. But once it began and the choir came out on stage I forgot about that and just let the music get to work. Just a word of warning floor seats might be “closer” to the stage but the are also lower than the stage. So you do miss some things, especially when it comes to the elaborate sets.
But throughout the show I did take mental notes. The most interesting and maybe even ironic thing I noticed were the screams and cheers from the fans… They all came from behind me. And when I say “behind me” I mean up in the nose bleeds. NOT the floor. This is the first show where I truly felt a divide between the haves and have nots in a musical setting.
In the 90s I saw both Gloria Estefan and Shania Twain at their peaks at what were then seen as arenas. And I was close to the stage both times. And everyone around me felt me like a true fan Mainstreet or otherwise, screaming and singing along together.
But here it was clear the super fans were in the rafters. I could feel their energy descending down towards the floor in waves. Aside from a few strays like me NOBODY on the floor screamed or cheered. Or really even clapped. As I stated above this wasn’t a dance show but the people around me on the floor (and I admit I am being prejudiced) looked and felt like people who go to events simply because the price tag is high, or it’s a big brand name. And more importantly so many looked and felt like a crowd you see on a Ted Talk video, there for a seminar. I’ve never felt that at a show before or seen it in the posture of the audience. Oh and there was also a heavy dose of, “Just sing the hits. Nobody comes to a concert for politics”.
Speaking of having thoughts, for the encore the audience is presented a video of Greta Thunberg talking about the climate crisis and how change is coming, whether the greedy and wealthy help or not and want it or not. One of the more scathing bits was when Greta chastised people for supposedly having unconditional love for their children while ruining the only home their children have to live on. “It is the suffering of many who pay for the luxuries of the few,” was another great line.
The floor was dead silent. And there were some, I didn’t come here for this, folded arms and grimaced faces. And of course the irony of being in the chase center basically a 2022 gladiator arena largely for the haves built by the have nots. The rafters however, were a cacophony of cheers. Not as loud as for the main attraction but clearly the peasantry loves the young trouble maker calling out the upper masses I seemed to be seated with.
I understand the inclusion of this speech and on it’s own it was fine. Preach lady preach! But I felt like it took me out of the shows carefully constructed blanket. As if watching Madama Butterfly and after Un Bel Di the prime minister of Japan does a travel ad for his country. And towards the beginning of the show there was a projected message from Björk herself about moving towards a utopia, which everyone seemed to take in agreement. But the Greta segment clearly did not go down the same way.
About halfway through the show I decided to dance. There wasn’t any strong pulsing beats to latch onto but that never stopped me (I’ve dance at the symphony to Mozart). The arrangements, comprised of a lot of flute performed by the Viibra flute septet, resonated as ancient and tribal. And I know how to get ancient and tribal. Also, I think I saw the world’s largest flute that night, not including the flute ring that descended from the sky to encircle Björk as the four winged members of the septet played it during, “Body Memory”. There was another piece involving percussion and pouring water. Plus a host of other magical surprises I cannot describe. A few times you could even hear Björk keeping time, stomping her silver platforms on the stage as she quirkily bopped around in a gold butterfly mask and a dress that looked to resemble a collection dandelion puff balls.
She invited the audience to dance for the final encore, “Notget”, but nobody on the floor seemed to know how as it didn’t have the beats to guide people. If they only would’ve just relaxed and let the music tell them how to move… And then the experience was over, almost…For after a mere five seconds of applause The Chase Center rudely cranked up the, “Get the fuck out lights”. That was the one sour note of the evening. I wanted the darkness to linger so I could sit for a moment and let the remaining energy wash over me and get soaked into my skin. But the sheep herding dogs at Chase had come for us.
For a show about utopia and the environment it seemed very at odds to have a merch table selling stuff that will ultimately end up in the ocean. But such is capitalism, which ironically again Greta railed against in her video. In full disclosure I got a poster. Not something I normally do but for once an artist put in some actual effort on the merch. The designs were very cool and yeah… if I buy a poster I guess it means I liked the show.
I can now say I’ve seen Björk, of one the musical masters of my time and really of my generation. And all in all the more I linger on the show the more I wish I could see it again from a different angle, more towards the center and further back. Maybe even up in the first balcony. I would have a better view of the shelf mushroom stage and resonating chamber, the flute ring, the water… all of it. Maybe then I would’ve understood what she was singing better. But again, that didn’t matter to me because I understood what she meant.
This wasn’t a concert so much as a conceptual performance piece featuring Björk songs. And if you are a casual fan or 90s revival kid you were probably let down by the lack of, “Big Time Sensuality” and other better known material. The die hard fans went full Nakatomi plaza as you’d expect. I went with no expectations other than a few songs I enjoy and came out being reminded of how the best music will feed you and enter the blood stream when you are open to it. And when it is gifted to you by an artist with conviction who isn’t phoning it in with backing tracks or other half-assery it is nutrient rich. I also was reminded that sometimes you have to put dancing aside and sit down and address other more pressing matters. But I was then quickly reminded they are not mutually exclusive. Just let the music tell you want you need to do. And the music had told me I need to listen to the Utopia album in full and decide what my part is in pushing humanity closer to that desired place.