The Mark of Excellence

Björk / Death Grips / Mykki Blanco

Echo Beach, Toronto ON, July 16

> > Jul 17 2013

Björk / Death Grips / Mykki Blanco - Echo Beach, Toronto ON, July 16
Photo: Lucia Graca
By Stephen Carlick"I feel like I'm the prettiest girl at the festival" boasted Mykki Blanco as she strutted commandingly about the stage in broad daylight, comparing herself to Beyoncé between songs like "Angggry Byrdz," on which she acknowledges, with ferocious delivery, peers being on her dick and clit.

Death Grips followed, and though Zach Hill Andy Morin and Stefan "MC Ride" Burnett infused their set with as much energy as possible, the stifling humidity meant that it took nearly their whole set before they'd convinced a perplexed and sweating crowd to dance. After sprinkling hits like "Get Got" and "The Fever" amidst the majority of latest LP No Love Deep Web, Burnett literally dropped the mic and walked offstage without waving to the cheering crowd.

Musically, both Blanco and Death Grips seemed odd choices to open for the Icelandic innovator, but philosophically, they're not so different: all three are defiantly uncompromising about their musical vision, and judging from the music between sets, Björk has (unsurprisingly) eclectic taste.

So it was as an LED screen requesting fans stow away cameras in favour of "engaging with the performance" dimmed, a choir of young women draped in shiny satin walked out, and sustained vocal harmonies faded in that Björk, adorned in her voluminous orange wig, took the stage. From the beginning of opener "Cosmogony," the singer was in top form, showcasing her raw, powerful voice, untouched by studio sheen.

"What a beautiful evening," she commented in a thick accent when the song ended, for the first of many times that night. "Thank you, I'm grateful."

Clearly in high spirits, Björk was a force to be reckoned with, hitting her stride on a drum-solo aided "Hunter" and dancing excitedly through "Thunderbolt," "Moon" and "Crystalline," all of which proved that Biophilia's middling critical reception was unfounded.

She didn't do it alone, though; besides her talented percussionist and DJ, an Icelandic girls choir provided a perfect human and musical complement to the entire night's proceedings. On "Thunderbolt," their voices folded in harmonically on one another and then bloomed again outward as the song demanded, matching Björk's enthusiasm and dynamism. All of her songs benefitted from their aid, which they provided with gusto; they made "Crystalline" especially emphatic, turning 90 degrees each time they sang the titular word and dancing in between. When the song reached its unhinged breakdown, they grooved feverishly alongside Björk.

"Hidden Place" was a welcome inclusion, and the sparse "One Day" provided a moment of intimacy amidst the grandeur, but it was during jewel in the crown "Jóga," and the following one-two of the rarely-played "Pagan Poetry" and "Army of Me," that the show became something special. A stirring vocal performance and a choral denouement made "Jóga" spine-tingling, while the vibrating thrum of "Army of Me" was enhanced visually by a fully functional Tesla coil.

While the new songs cemented Björk's continued relevance, it was older tracks, including an emphatic "Hyperballad"/"Pluto" medley, that reminded attendees she's one of the most important musicians of the last 20 years.

Slamming drums, video clips of lava and red pyrotechnics began set closer "Nattura" (it ended with a wall of white sparklers) before Björk returned for a single-song encore. After thanking her two musicians and her fantastic choir, and dedicating the show to Trayvon Martin, she launched into Volta salvo "Declare Independence," a perfect rallying cry for one of pop music's most unique and compelling performers.
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