Björk Starts the Fire Year in Review 2003

Björk Starts the Fire Year in Review 2003
Parc Jean Drapeau, Montreal, August 28
Toronto Island, Toronto, September 2

There was no orchestra or choir in tow to worry about. There wasn't a new band of collaborators to break in. There was no new album to flog, just a glut of archival material for diehard fans to pore over, an ideal opportunity to mine a rich catalogue. And, ten years after her Debut, it was a good time to let loose and literally unleash a few fireworks.

It seemed like some silly summer gig gimmick, performing pyrotechnics at island venues only. But five songs in, as soon as the flames appeared in waves circling the stage — on cue with the lyric "state of emergency/ how beautiful to be," mimicking the cascading string section in "Joga" — it was clear that this was going to be much more than a few concluding bursts of light. The lighting, the video, and the pyro were all executed exquisitely and used sparingly throughout the set, until the searing climax of "Pluto" and "Human Behaviour," when all switches were thrown on. If you could tear your eyes from the stage, you'd see thousands of people in (not on) ecstasy, bathed in bone-rattling beats, blinding lights, fireworks and flames.

Yet even before the special effects, the music was magical enough. The sound was perfect, with the Icelandic String Octet acting as far more than window dressing. Zeena Parkins' approach to acoustics and Matmos's experimental electronics were individually indispensable to the newer material, and managed to improve older arrangements, communicating both the subtlest gestures and the epic sweep required to match That Voice.

In Montreal, she opened with the delicacies "Hunter," "Cocoon," "Unravel" and "I've Seen It All" — after which I already felt I'd got my $57 worth. Then came the pyrotechnics. Then came the perfect balance of high art and thumping techno, of avant-garde and accessibility. Then I decided I'd just seen the most astounding show of my life and decided I had to see it again, no matter the cost. But for the record, the Montreal set list was better.