Björk with MATMOS at the Hummingbird Centre, October 8. Tickets: $95.50. Attendance: 3,200. Rating: NNNN
the hundreds of anxious-looking people outside the Hummingbird Centre muttering "Who's selling?" 10 minutes before showtime were confirmation that Björk's return was indeed the hottest ticket in town. San Francisco glitch-techno openers Matmos put the crowd on edge with unsettling close-up images of Martin Schmidt being probed with an acupuncture-point sensor. But the shuddering revulsion was quickly transformed into nodding heads as Drew Daniel used the chirping noises created by the procedure to construct a funky groove.
For all the clever sonic manipulation and balloon play, however, it was still just two guys twiddling knobs with their backs to the audience. That might work in a small club, but it isn't really a recipe for an exciting concert-hall performance.
Björk's dramatic snow-globe-inspired entrance, sitting like a fairy figurine in her notorious swan dress while feathers floated down from above, drew as many sighs of relief as delighted whoops from the adoring audience. Yet for much of the first set, the applause was merely polite as Björk ran through the least interesting songs from her new Vespertine album.
And in spite of the presence of a 55-piece orchestra, a women's choir, avant-harpist Zeena Parkins and the Matmos dudes, the elaborate operation didn't seem overly rehearsed. There were long, uneasy periods of silence between songs, when even Björk shuffled nervously, seemingly unsure of what might happen next.
Those who made it through to the second set were rewarded with a greatest-hits gift package presented by the elfin belter dancing playfully in a red feathered hoop skirt. The place went berserk at the familiar introductions to Venus As A Boy and Human Behaviour, but everything -- the strings, the electronics and that gorgeous gale-force holler -- came together to stirring effect on the John Barry-esque Bachelorette. That epic four minutes made the entire production worthwhile.