The Adventures of
Captain Zero
and his trusty sidekick Numba Wan
Posted Monday, August 25, 2003
Monday, 18 August 2003 - Red Rocks, Morrison, Colorado

Every avid concertgoer has his archetype of a great concert. For me it was Oasis at the Auditorium Theater 1999. Not that much into the boys at the time, when they kicked into Supersonic I was in pure rock and roll bliss and I became a confirmed Gallagher fan for life. Certain rock shows have come close (Radiohead at Red Rocks in 2001 comes to mind), but in my view none can top that one. No doubt Bjork at Red Rocks will play that role for many of the impressionable young adults in attendance. The Icelandic Pixie has a unique and progressive style which together with the power of her voice makes her one of the best female vocalists in any form of popular music today. We’d seen her in concert once before, headlining the main stage at Coachella 2002 that had earlier swallowed the Strokes and shot Oasis down in flames. We were in a claustrophobically tight crowd, all of us straining our necks to get a glimpse of the transcendent show. What little I did see was stunning, and on the long drive home we agreed she’d been the best performer at the festival.

Needless to say, we wanted more. Knowing that Bjork doesn’t tour much, I was surprised to see that even though she wasn’t promoting an album (yet) she’d be playing Red Rocks amongst a handful of other North American dates and I jumped at the presale as soon as I heard of it. We ended up with row 31; not the best but not bad by any stretch. With rain falling much of the afternoon, we recalled the Coldplay freeze-out a few months before and made sure to prepare ourselves for a cold evening. When we arrived the rain had stopped and an auspicious rainbow fragment hovered above the town of Morrison down below. The crowd was young and self-centered as young people are, but interesting to watch. The large number of LUGs (Lesbians Until Graduation) in attendance far exceeded their proportion of the general population.

Several unfortunate people who I talked to were at their first concert ever and are now spoiled for life; Bjork at Red Rocks will be the show to which all others will be unfavorably compared. “Sure that was good,” they will say countless times in their life, “but it wasn’t nearly as good as Bjork at the Rocks”. Poor bastards.

The opener was a sincere chap in salmon colored pants named Bonnie Prince Billy who ably accompanied himself on a mandolin-type strumming apparatus. He introduced one song as an attempt to make a virtue of adultery and several other times praised the lord with rock solid conviction.

By the time BPB strode offstage, the ever-resourceful Numba Wan returned from a scouting expedition to report on an intriguing possibility. The Rosenbergs had braved the earlier downpours and packs of rabid Bjorksters and presently occupied a pair of seats in the fifth row. Numba Wan had smartly softened their neighbors to our presence with a generous offer of sweet sweet cheeba, little though we had. Let that be a lesson to you kids: marijuana will get you nowhere in life, unless you want to get to the first few rows at a Red Rocks concert. After about half a second of careful consideration, we abandoned our seats and settled into cozy if cramped digs up close to the stage. I gotta hand it to the Rosenbergs: for a couple of peacenik vegetarians they sure can pull down a prime location at a highly desirable show. They made my night.

Not entire convinced of Bjork’s humanity, I half expected her to fly in on fairy wings.
The Icelandic String Octet strode onto the stage, followed by a lady in flowing white garb. The audience cheered their heroine with eager delight before realizing this wasn’t Bjork, it was harpist Zeena Parkins. “Sound sculptors” Matmos finished the ensemble and were followed immediately by the Bjork herself, and the crowd cheered louder than before. She was dressed in a tacky black tutu with a big pink fringe on the shoulder that would make Martin L. Gore proud.

The set opened with Unravel, with images from the video on the screen. Starting with slow and more orchestra-intensive songs, she eventually moved on to her more danceable electronic tunes. The audience, while enthusiastic, clearly wanted to move but would have to wait while Bjork indulged herself a little. During one song, images of weird fish/human-hand hybrids swam around the screens. All Is Full Of Love demonstrated that her voice was in very good form. Towards the end of Hunter, she did the requisite hand dance completely in time with the music. Hyperballad finally got people dancing. The highlight of the show was Pagan Poetry. A few times between songs she gave her distinctive “senk yew” to the delight of the fans. When they came back for the encore, she retreated behind the harp and with a heavy accent said “and now we are going to play a little song for you”. I still think she might not be human, perhaps the last of the elves. Someone threw a heart shaped balloon on stage almost hitting her in the head. She didn’t seem to notice until a few minutes later when the breeze carried it to her feet. While continuing to sing, she appeared to consider it carefully, and then after her part was done she picked it up and gave it to one of the Matmos guys.

As odd as it sounds, Bjork had the best pyrotechnics I’ve ever seen at a concert. Two rows of ten propane torches flanked the performers front and back and would send waves of flame oscillating back and forth across the stage. From my vantage point, I could feel the heat and smell the exhaust. Later, two metallic trees spouted leaves of flame. During the encore the finale of the last song, Human Behaviour, in particular was quite dramatic as all flames went off at once accompanied by a grand flash of sparks as Bjork jumped and gave a loud yelp into the microphone. The spectacle was over before we knew it, and soon the houselights came up to our great disappointment. No Venus As A Boy, no Big Time Sensuality.

The set was a short ninety minutes in duration and Bjork yet again left us wanting more, especially considering the elevated ticket price. Being in the fifth row was a real treat, and we owe a big one to the Rosenbergs. When asked what she thought of the show, Numba Wan let loose with a volley of breathless hyperbole about how wonderful Bjork is.

All in all, a great show, but not nearly as great as Oasis at the Auditorium.