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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Bjork may be more sedate but still captivates

The Icelandic singer cut the costume changes and focused on the past for her Nokia show.

December 14, 2007|Richard Cromelin | Times Staff Writer

For those whose interest in Bjork focuses on her infamous swan dress and other elaborate, high-concept costumery, the news from her concert Wednesday at the Nokia Theatre is that the Icelandic singer was fairly demure, by her standards. She didn't change outfits once during the nearly two-hour show, sticking with a gold lame tunic with giant, wing-like ruffles that suggested a fairy-tale look, and almost took a back seat to the festively decorated robes and spiky headdresses of her frisky, 10-member female brass section.

Not to read too much into it, but that fashion conservatism coincides with what might be the least venturesome musical period of Bjork's fertile, 14-year solo career. Her new album, "Volta," traverses a lot of ground she's covered before, and the Nokia concert took a long time to reach liftoff.

With the emphasis on retrospective rather than pushing forward, Bjork and her musicians -- the brass players were joined by drummer Chris Corsano, keyboardist Jonas Sen and electronics guys Damian Taylor and Mark Bell -- spent the first portion of the show floating through miasmic atmospheres. While the shapes and textures of such songs as "Unravel" and "Unison" were rich and tactile, the pace dragged.

It picked up during "Joga," when lasers and percussion kicked in, and from there it remained much more dynamic and involving, propelled by trip-hop pitter-patter and big-beat thunder. Though the show never did gather uninterrupted force, Bjork herself seemed to wake up as it went along, her initially perfunctory manner giving way to a looser and more enthusiastic presence.

She played only four songs from "Volta," but they provided some highlights, from the explosive tribal percussion of "Earth Intruders" to the lean, heavy Timbaland beat of "Innocence" to the liberating message of the closing "Declare Independence," which spikes the Bjork aesthetic with a little Rage Against the Machine cadence.

The most striking moment, though, might have been the quietest, when Bjork stood next to pianist Sen to perform "Cover Me" to his solo accompaniment. "I'm going hunting for mysteries," she sang, "I'm going to prove the impossible really exists," and in that instant she was powerful and entrancing, a Piaf of the permafrost.

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richard.cromelin@latimes.com

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