Björk, last month at Coachella.Photo by Retna Images
Has the United Palace in Harlem, the way-uptown venue with a restored Art Deco interior more baroque and stunning than Radio City, ever seen so many asymmetrical haircuts, vintage dresses, ballet flats, and Chuck Taylors as it did Saturday night at the Björk show? Oh, yeah: Friday’s Arcade Fire show. But with an Icelandic women’s choir/brass band decked out in neon robes that glowed in the dark, Saturday night’s performance seemed a little more avant-garde. The stage was festooned with Medieval-style flags, as if this was a preshow to a joust or maypole dance. Björk, in a triangular, rainbow-colored frock, shared the stage with guests like the Eeyore-ish, syrup-voiced Antony (from Antony and the Johnsons) and the Chinese musician Min Xiao-fen, who played a sitarlike instrument called the pipa.
And yet, Björk’s onstage persona has become more like that of a pop star. When hitting the high notes, she does the same elaborate hand flutters as Mariah. Her lack of onstage banter and her indecipherable “shank yous” are as endearing as a baby seal. Her hair is beguilingly shiny. When constructing her set list, she’ll never deny her audience old warhorse chestnuts like “Hyperballad”: when the beats flickered during the second chorus, all hell broke loose in the seats.
Despite all that, the night’s most spontaneous moment arrived after the show in the 175th street A-train station. A giant mass of satiated concertgoers — hipsters, gays, fat old guys wearing concert T-shirts, flygirls in spandex track suits — were forced to enter, snail-like, through two revolving-door turnstiles. In the spirit of Björk’s tribal-warrior new single “Earth Intruders,” someone finally pushed open the emergency door. An alarm went off, and the throng rushed in, forgoing the turnstiles altogether. Law-breaking sprites unite! —Justin Ravitz