The gig is at the Waterfront, a fairly new venue in Belfast. Inside it’s like a giant white shell, with an empty space in the middle for the pit, and seating raked up on tiers. The way it’s been designed means you’re quite close to the stage from anywhere in the room, and the acoustics are amazing. After raiding the merch stand, we climb up to our seats in time to catch the support act, Leila Arab. At first it seems weird to have a DJ set as a support act, but then realistically, nobody is going to live up to Bjork, and actually Leila’s music is quite complementary. Her set is sparse and strange, with a roar like planes taking off. She pulls sound up from the depths, causing havoc and delighting in the chaos. She doesn’t acknowledge the audience at all, and doesn’t seem to care whether anyone listens or not. As the last of her set crashes through the room, she puts on her jacket, picks up her purse and her can of Coke and wanders offstage, as though she’d just been passing by and thought she’d spin a few discs.
The crowd is an interesting mix – grey heads and young punks and all the funky people I had suspected were hiding somewhere in Belfast. They’re like vampires, you just don’t see them during the day. But here they are, the magenta ponytails, the afros, the piercings, the brightly coloured tights and fishnets, the dreadlocks.
And then suddenly the lights go out and the stage is lit in eerie UV light. A brass band marches in, dressed in multicoloured clown suits with little flags sticking up at the back, blaring noise. Then the joyous chaos of Earth Intruders whips up and out skips a little pixie with bare feet and a gold dress, a grin on her face, tossing her black hair. And then, that voice. That heart-stopping voice that is at once child and woman and animal and faerie. I hear myself scream in delight.
The crowd laps it up, of course, hanging on her every syllable, squealing with every move she makes. Something as simple as throwing silver streamers out to the crowd as she prowls along the edge of the stage during Hunter has everyone oohing in childlike wonder. She ends every song with a sweet “Sinq you!” and you can’t help but laugh.
The way she blends live sounds with beats and loops is genius. She is the eye of the storm, while the sounds thrum and pound and ricochet through the room and our bodies. She hollers, her voice unbound and effortlessly powerful; she isn’t at all overwhelmed by the insane noise being generated by her band, but is in charge of it, is bigger than it.
She sings a couple of songs surrounded by a semi-circle of brass, her touch feather-light and yet deeply rooted in the earth. She teases out the emotion of each song, pulls us along with her, has us tiptoeing and creeping around the stage with her. And then suddenly the world explodes as Army of Me crashes in with beats, red lights, lasers and strobes that threaten to pull us apart and her voice soaring over the top of it all.
The setlist is pulled from throughout her back catalogue, not just the most recent stuff, yet everything sounds new and fresh. The mood is gradually ratcheted up till it hits a peak with Pluto and Hyperballad. It’s like the most incredible rave, with everyone jumping in unison and the sound just pumping. And this little golden girl flits around the stage in the middle of it all, punching the sound with her tiny fists and flailing her hair in the air.
The stage is cleared and the house descends back into the purple UV light. The crowd is going crazy, screaming and stomping and clapping, and eventually the brass band skips back on, Bjork in their midst. She sings the sweet Oceania as her first encore, and then launches into Declare Independence, which is becoming her signature closer. Glitter cannons explode over the audience, and she is swirling in the midst of a silver cloud, shouting “Raise your flag!” The audience shouts back “Higher! Higher!” and together we’re all whipped up into the most incredible fist-pumping frenzy.