Björk / Matmos

The Coliseum, London -23 September, 2001

"Theatre without the theatrics - a wonder to behold"

Having started promptly at 7pm, just as soon as the doors had opened, Matmos were already well underway by the time I took my seat. Using amazingly democratic instrumentation - taking all stages in technology from helium-filled balloons as drums to Apple laptop computers - this San Franciscan duo turn out 'music' that is as hilarious in its creation as it is moving in its emotion. They've worked with the likes of Labradford, Kid 606, Pole and Björk. Part performance art, part sound sculpture and all entertaining, this evening's highlight had to be a hamster (or was it bird?) cage solo (plucking at the bars) that became a truly amazing duet! I kid you not. Fortunately, Matmos know not to take themselves too seriously and the loud laughter that came out of the audience apparently didn't cause them any offence. Indeed, if there hadn't have been any, I'm sure Matmos would have thought London to be filled with intellectual music snobs and the night would have been far worse for it. As they launched their helium-filled balloons to the Coliseum's wonderfully vaulted ceiling and walked slowly off the stage, the rapturous response said it all.

Bjork After changing during the interval into their Björk outfits, Matmos returned to the stage to provide additional live backing to the Icelandic wonder. Already on stage were harpist Zeena Parkins and a fifteen strong female Inuit choir. Björk walks on stage and, spotlight aside, all is in darkness. In her hand is one of the music boxes used on the new album Vespertine. The instrumental Frosti follows with Björk turning the small box's handle. The tiny pins inside striking their melancholic, childhood fantasy melody. The door opened into this fantastic world, the next treasure uncovered is All Is Full of Love. As 'snow' falls silently to the ground, a black and white stripy tights wearing fairy, her blue top shimmering in the focused beam of light, takes the entire Coliseum into another dimension.

More usually associated with opera and ballet (and home to the English National Opera), the Coliseum is the perfect venue for this show. Minimalist but dramatically visual the stage is variously transformed from the winter wonderland of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, to the blue and white landscapes of the Arctic. Quite correctly keeping the projections to a single still image for each song, and with only one costume change during a brief interval, there was fortunately none of the bombastic, distracting nonsense that goes with a Madonna gig, for example. This was purely about the songs. The first half of the set draws primarily from Vespertine but also takes in SelmaSongs, the brilliant soundtrack to the emotionally traumatic film (also starring Björk) Dancer in the Dark.

Björk Following the interval, the bold red cocktail dress with its hooped, feathered skirt signals the less introspective side of the night. Singles and memorable album tracks such as Possibly Maybe, Army of Me, the kinetic Hyperballad, Isobelle and a slightly truncated version of Human Behaviour all work the packed Coliseum into a frenzy of wild adoration. For a brief moment during the heart-wrenching Bachelorette the incredible voice stops abruptly, mid-sentence. Forgotten word, technology glitch or, perhaps, pure emotion? The cause was unclear. It picks up a couple of lines later and is the only noticeable occasion when things don't go as rehearsed. But Ms Gudmundsdottirr remains unfazed. Reflecting the nature of the songs, there's more movement, more running and leaping during this second section. She's obviously having fun.

Technically, the performance is stunning. The Inuit choir is ideally placed and blends perfectly with the on stage electronics and backing track. Zeena Parkins' glorious harp strings are crystal clear throughout; and the playing cards that provide the percussion on Its Not Up To You (from Vespertine) are perfectly recreated live with one of Matmos rapidly cutting and shuffling a deck on a small table in time to the beats. (This just one of an array of astounding live sound effects.) Björk is stunning. Her unique voice and incomparable songwriting talent truly mark her out, not only one of the most talented and original singer/songwriters of her generation, but of all time. This was one of the most life-affirming concerts I have ever attended - it was certainly the most beautiful - theatre without the theatrics. A wonder to behold.

Rob Dyer