The Blackbird Ensemble Performs Björk: All Is Full Of Love
Shed 6, Wellington
Thursday, October 17
Musical director Claire Cowan has been creating shows with her Blackbird Ensemble across the last decade – the music of Radiohead, Arvo Part and Bjork, other things too. Finally Wellington was allowed to see the ensemble’s best loved show a tribute – or re-imagining of many of the vital works of Björk.
There is no way to be Björk – or to even get really close to replication. Fortunately Cowan and her ensemble knows that; they aim for loving approximation, for enthusiastic cheerleading, for hopeful celebration. And in most cases that is what we get and this fantastic band absolutely nails it.
From the obvious hits you’d expect – Hyperballad, Human Behaviour, Pagan Poetry – to deeper cuts – Wanderlust, Isobel, even I’ve Seen It All from the Dancer In The Dark soundtrack – it is an immaculately selected curation.
It’s fairly immaculately performed too.
I don’t really want to name too many names and isolate certain players since it’s about an ensemble. That said, the strings and horns were magnificent, particularly the starring role of the principal violinist. Cowan too, mostly at the keyboards, occasionally plucking a harp, put across not only a deep discipline around getting it right but a profound love for the source-material.
There were three singers working to put the enigmatic melodies and lyrics of Björk in place. And though there was something up at the very start, burying Priya Sami’s voice on the opening track, I was pleasantly surprised by how not-shit Shed 6 was. For once.
Also pleasantly surprising, when warmed up, was how perfect Sami’s voice was for this sort of gig. Anna Coddington was the MVP though; she’s so charismatic, so magnetic and dynamic as a performer. Frankly, anything that keeps her from singing her own material is a good thing too. She was mesmeric in, most-often, the starring vocal role.
Mara TK has a beautiful voice. It wasn’t particularly well suited to this material however, and I don’t think that’s just because he’s male, and here tasked with singing (mostly) female parts. I also didn’t believe him – whereas it was obvious that Coddington and Sami were all-in and loving it. TK’s aloofness, mumbled and baffling banter and slightly awkward stance suggested a deep-fraud. Almost everyone else on stage looked to be loving the material and their chance to be part of it. For him this was just a paid gig.
I might have that wrong. But that’s the perception I came away from this show with…
Still, though, the set was pretty much a triumph.
The question with any sort of covers-based “Tribute” gig is always a version of why?
Well, this had the right sort of vibe – this was about a love of the music, the music of the so-hugely-talented Björk; one of the late 20th Century and 21st Century’s greatest musical forces: composer, vocalist, arranger, producer, musician, conceptualist.
And yes, absolutely I went into this and walked out of this wanting to listen to more Björk – wanting to go back to old favourites, catch up with the new brilliant gems and find deep-cuts all over again. But I have no doubt that Cowan and the Blackbird Ensemble were there to help facilitate that want, to remind, to coax, to celebrate and serve.
In that sense they achieved their goal. They also gave us the thing the real Björk will never do, a veritable “Hits” showcase.
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