One of the things I love the most about living in New York is that you can hear a new song by an artist you like in the morning and that very same day, in the evening, you can hear said song performed live. That much was true on Tuesday, for fans both of Brandon Flowers and Action Bronson, who each released new tracks, and took to Webster Hall and Terminal 5, respectively, to show them off.
I’m a true blue Brandon Flowers fan so after listening to Can’t Deny My Love a few dozen times, that’s where I ended up – once I’d done a few laps around the East River Track (two weeks to go until I run the Paris Marathon!) This was the second time I’d seen Brandon perform his solo material. It was almost five years ago when the Killers frontman came out with Flamingo, and I went to see him perform at the Hammerstein Ballroom on my second night in the city.
For Tuesday night’s show he opened with a new track, Dreams Come True, which is also set to be the opening track of the new album, The Desired Effect. He hopped straight into his debut single, Crossfire (which used to be my ringtone in the days when we still did that). “We’ve been coming here for 11 years, and I still get intimidated by this place,” he mused about NYC, before adding: “But I also love it.” His set was upbeat and uplifting, as he gave us a smattering of new songs Digging up the Heart and Can’t Deny My Love. Whether he’s talking about love for his wife, or his family, or his Killers bandmates, Can’t Deny carries a certain passion and it soars along with his falsetto. He performed a few more Flamingo tracks too.”I’ve told this story many times before, but I’ll tell it again, just in case you don’t know it,” he said, before declaring we should all go on a journey like the one described in Magdalena. We also got a fair number of Killers tracks, or “covers” as he called them – Read My Mind, Human, the Thin White Duke version of Mr Brightside (how come I NEVER tire of hearing that song?)
The night marked a welcome return to the solo life, for now, for the singer. His synthesized pop sensibilities and heart-on-his-sleeve-smile continue to win me over. Which has become harder to do now that training for a marathon has all but taken over my life. I want to write something like, “I can’t deny my love for him” but that would be too cheesy now, wouldn’t it? And anyway, you get my point.
There were two things I was hoping to do this month after seeing Bjork’s MoMA exhibition. One was to experience her perform live – something I’d never done before – and the other was to experience the virtual reality world she’d created as part of the extension of her museum retrospective.
Sunday was the day both of these things came to pass.
Since releasing Vulnicura, Bjork has lined up shows at Carnegie Hall, Kings Theatre and City Center in Manhattan. I wanted to see Bjork sing at Kings Theatre because it’s a movie palace from a bygone era, built in 1929, that was only just restored and opened back up to the public again last month after lying dormant for 30 years. It really does feel like you’ve stepped inside another world, with its grand velvet red curtains, opulent golden walls and encrusted sculptures, especially when just a few metres away, shops like The Virgin Hair Store beckon.
To hear Bjork’s majestic voice take flight within the walls of such a place was perhaps the best way to see her perform live for the first time. I’ve become so used to listening to music on my laptop and iPhone that to hear her voice, accompanied by a 15 piece orchestra and Venezuelan producer genius Arca, fill the venue gave me chills. This is what music is supposed to sound like. How easy it is to forget, living in a city where the walls are too thin and the headphones still never quite big enough. You’re meant to be enveloped by it – the desire, the longing, the sadness, and ultimately, the healing.
Bjork wore a spiky headdress similar to the one in her Lionsong video, creatively directed by Dutch duo Inez & Vinoodh, for the first half of her set. During this half, she performed the first six tracks from Vulnicura, accompanied by visuals that ranged from a spider being reborn to copulating snails and beating pulses of colour and shapes bursting on screen. For the second part, she played a few older tracks – Come to Me from Debut and I See Who You Are from Volta – before going back to Vulnicura and ending with Mouth Mantra, and an encore of the best kind, All is Full of Love.
Sunday was also the day Bjork released the 360 degree 3D virtual reality music video for Stonemilker. So after the show, I went to Rough Trade in Brooklyn to see it. My friend and I were led into a little room and we put on the headset with eye-goggles and each sat on a chair. The video is a collaboration between Bjork and Andrew Huang, who also directed her Blake Lake video for MoMA, and was filmed on a beach in Iceland where the song was written. As Bjork describes it, the 360 panoramic view matched the movement of the song. “If the song has a shape, it is sort of like a circle that just goes on forever,” she said on her website. She recorded the strings with a clip on each instrument so that it feels like the musicians are sitting around you, playing the song.
It truly does feel that way. As Bjork sings, she draws you in, and you move in the chair as she moves along the beach. You are there with her, in Iceland, feeling like you are on the cold, black sand, as the words of the sad song make you feel even colder, and as she waves her arm, the green willowy silk of her dress flutters above your head. It’s so real that it feels almost harsh when you put your hand out to reach for her and you don’t see it come out in front of you, bringing you back to the sharp bite of reality – of course you can’t touch her! It made me feel a little silly. Obviously I knew I couldn’t touch her but she was so close!
One of the other people who had also tried it out was talking enthusiastically about the experience as being the way forward; about how pretty soon virtual reality will be the way we live. I think about shows and concerts and how that might impact on that. Imagine watching a show, in a 3D world created to look like you’re in the Kings Palace. You wouldn’t have to deal with the annoying guy next to you who insists on Instagramming half the show, or the girl in front who keeps moving her head and blocking your view. Question is, would it feel the same?
The Stonemilker virtual reality music video is on show at MoMA PS1 for the next month and at Rough Trade until the end of March. Details about the physical album release are here.
Insurgent is the sequel to Divergent, the book-to-box office series that picked up the post-Twilight, post-Hunger Games reigns. I spoke to Shailene and the rest of the cast about this, as well as the woman who started it all, author Veronica Roth.
“Happy International Women’s Day!” I walk into the interview room and greet Octavia Spencer, who’s wearing a polka-dot skirt that I’m about to find out is as joyful as her demeanour.
“Oh yes, that’s today! Great! Yes! Yes,” she replies, oozing an enthusiasm that is undeniably infectious.
The Oscar-winning actress plays the head of the Amity faction in Veronica Roth’s incredibly successful Divergent series. She’s one of the new characters introduced in Insurgent, which is the reason for my trip to LA this past weekend. Along with Naomi Watts, who plays the Factionless leader Evelyn, Octavia joins Shailene Woodley and Kate Winslet, who reprise their roles from the box-office-busting firstmovie.
It may have been a coincidence that my interviews for Insurgent fell on this day, but it was a twist of sweet poetry that it did. Not only did I get to speak to a few of Hollywood’s most inspiring leading ladies who are in thefollow-upbut I also got to speak to Roth, the 26-year-old author who wrote Divergent during a break in her senior year at university and had sold the publishing rights before she graduated. If you’re wondering if she ever imagined the likes of Kate Winslet playing one of her characters, the answer would be no. Talk about inspiring.
Kate Winslet is one of those names that erases any kind of nonchalance an entertainment reporter may have about interviewing film stars for a living. It’s a name that reminds you underneath that journalist exterior is a fan. My inner fan accidentally came out when I told Kate at the end of our interview that I couldn’t wait to see her in the last installment, Allegiant, but of course – and it’s no spoiler for fans of the book – her character gets killed off in Insurgent. Hide me now.
I’ll be able to share the interviews with Winslet and the rest of the cast, males included, when the movie releases on March 20th. I can, however, share another bit of coincidental sweet poetry. Ellie Goulding, who sang the theme song for Divergent, came out to the launch of Nike’s LA Run Club (something I’ve been taking part in regularly in New York and happened to be in town for). Together with Carmelita Jeter, dubbed the World’s Fastest Woman for her sprinting records, Ellie lead us in the workout she illustrates on the NTC (Nike Training Club) app.
It was an uplifting way to keep the spirit of International Women’s Day going, building on the message being put out by UN Women to step up gender equality and work to renew the promises made in Beijing 20 years ago that have not been fulfilled. Seeing female athletes and artists at the top of their game is further impetus to keep pushing – all of us.
So too, the many pics that came in on Instagram of women – and men – from Sydney and Johannesburg, encouraged by @Voltwomen to share their miles for International Women’s Day. It felt like a ripple of positive energy across social media, one that we can only hope snowballs in real life. In the meantime, I’ve become a fan of all those strong women who run because they can, too.
When it was announced last year that Bjork would be getting the MoMA-retrospective treatment, I joined the rest of her fans in rejoicing at the chance to look back over the work of one of the most talked-about, exciting artists of our time. How much of the Icelandic warrior-princess’ influences over the 8 albums she’s recorded would she reveal? How much of her roughly-drafted early song lyrics would we be privy to? How would her daring music videos with the likes of Michel Gondry and Chris Cunningham be presented? And, most importantly, would the swan dress from the 2001 Oscars make an appearance?
Turns out, the idea for a retrospective has been in the works for some time. The Museum of Modern Art’s chief curator Klaus Biesenbach has been urging Bjork to agree to it for over a decade.
“How do you hang songs?” Bjork herself asked, expressing her initial reservations. But, a dozen years later, she warmed to the idea, and so did the other relevant players needed to pull off the unusual exhibition.
I went to a preview, hoping to hear Bjork herself talk a bit more about it. She was there, but only for a very quick blink-and-you-miss-it moment, especially since she was dressed in a black cactus-like outfit that covered her face, relaying her gratitude to those who helped make the whole thing come together. Pictures were not permitted, which is a pity because how often does one get to see Bjork in one of her fantastical get-ups in person? (A very rare occurrence if you, like me, are from the tip of Africa.)
Even before you’re actually ready for the whimsical, eccentric bits and pieces that make up her 2-decade career, you’re hit with the first part of the exhibition as you walk into the museum. Sounds from instruments used in Biophilia, the first app ever to be acquired by MoMA, fill the lobby on the first floor, while the app itself is projected on a wall on the third floor.
I didn’t spend too much time there though, because I had a time slot to get into Songlines, the fictional journey through Bjork’s 8 albums. It’s designed to be an interactive, immersive experience that builds on the tangible things that led to or came out of Bjork’s albums – from 1993’s Debut to Vulnicura, released this month after being leaked in January.
The way it works is you are given an iPod that automatically syncs to where you are standing in the exhibit and plays a narrated story according to the part you are in. There are added instructions whispered in your ear by oft-collaborator Antony Hegarty, like “breathe” and “concentrate”, which are a little distracting, but that’s not what made the experience confusing for me.
It’s that there is not much space to wander. Your mind needs to do the wandering as you listen or focus on the item in front of you, but there is not a lot of space to physically walk around, at least not for the duration of the narration for each album. Once I’d got the hang of it – that it’s a meditation on the story of a girl with a beating blood-warm heart as her companion going out into the world – it was too late, and I couldn’t got back and re-visit the parts that had skipped ahead without my control. Pro-tip, then, from me to you, if you do go to that, take your time, and let your mind do the walking.
You will get to see some pretty amazing Bjork paraphernalia though – like the robots from Chris Cunningham’s All is Full of Love music video, a real-life GIF of Bjork’s image, made from a Nick Knight image captured during Homogenic, hand-written lyrics for Venus as a Boy, the late Alexander McQueen’s Bell Dress and, yes, the swan dress, made by Marjan Pejowski for the 2001 Oscars in honour of Dancer in the Dark Best Song nomination.
Something I really liked was created especially for the exhibition, the video installation Black Lake. The song appears on Bjork’s latest album, but Biesenbach says it was commissioned before they even knew there was going to be a new record coming from the singer. The 10-minute video, directed by Andrew Thomas Haung, was filmed in Iceland last year, during what Biesenbach calls the coldest Summer ever. After watching so many music videos on my laptop or iPhone, I found it quite emotional to get swept up in the expanse of the scenery and the sound and the motifs of devastation and re-birth.
I didn’t have time to hang out longer, but next to this part of the exhibition is a room with a giant screen, showing some of the more experimental videos Bjork has made during her career so far. Here’s hoping there will be many more – apps, iPhones, YouTubes and all.