nutron: last night my ears met their lover
About two years ago, when epitonic was still somewhat young, the gang here at epitonic had a little weekly gathering known as "movie night". We would get together and go to see a film or perhaps watch one at one of our apartments. On one such occasion Scott (epitonic co-founder) and Matt chose a documentary/music video about/of Dead Can Dance. It was interesting and I like their music, though I'm not crazy about it. Anyway, while watching it I glanced over and saw Scott, just watching them perform some song, crying. I didn't say anything about it but just acknowledged that Scott did something that I rarely, if ever did: cried at the sheer beauty of something.
A year went by and I saw Death Cab For Cutie play here in San Francisco. Their set was excellent -- one of the better shows I saw that year -- and when they came out and did their encore set they played Björk's "All Is Full Of Love". It blew me away as soon as I recognized it and I cheered. Soon the song overtook me and right about the time that super high note happens towards the end (which Ben Gibbard hit perfectly), without really noticing it, I found myself just... crying. It was stunning. They quickly became a new favorite band.
Update!: I saw Death Cab last night here in SF and they were wonderful. I had put off purchasing their latest album (The Photo Album) so that I could buy it at the show (and they'd get more of my money than the record store), which I did. I put it in to listen to it just 5 minutes ago and discovered that they have recorded "All Is Full Of Love." Readers who read this little missive last week will remember my shout out to them asking that they please record the song when in fact they already had. The only catch? You can only buy it from them on tour -- go see this band and buy this disk!!!
Last night I went to see Björk play. Matmos opened up and played an excellent set. I'd seen them play several times and this was their best performance that I'd seen. Anyway, after their set and a brief intermission Bjök tip-toes out on stage in total darkness. A spotlight grows on the floor behind her so her face isn't well illumniated. She's sitting on a chair holding a music box that's playing "Frosti" from her new album Vesperitine. As the song plays, feathers fall from just in front of the spotlight and dance their way down to the stage. The lights dim again, she sets the music box aside. The lights in the orchestra pit come up (and there's a full orchestral string section much to my surprise). In the darkness can also be seen on stage the Matmos guys again, some backup singers (which turned out to be a choir from Greenland), harpist Zeena Parkins, and two french horn players. The orchestra comes to life and play the "Overture" from Selmasongs and it's beautiful. Shockingly so. I mean, the song itself is amazing anyway, but to hear a live orchestra perform it was breathtaking. I was unprepared for it.
As the song dies down and the audience erupts the lights come up on the stage ever so slightly. Bjök, in her swan dress, steps up to her microphone and a light that's on the floor in front of her and pointed at her knees let's us see her shape but not her face. The orchestra starts up again and this time it's "All Is Full Of Love". The Death Cab performance of months ago creeps into my mind for an instant and then is instantly overshadowed by the unprecedented grandeur of Bjök singing it herself in front of an orchestra and a choir of women. Again, I found myself engulfed in the song and, without even noticing until the song ended, crying at the simple beauty of it.
A few songs later in the set, which was composed mostly of songs from Vesperitine, still entranced by the beauty of it all, I stole a moment to reflect and asked myself if I'd ever heard anything else as wonderful. I've seen Igor Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" performed. I saw Joe Henderson play the saxophone. I've seen Portishead, Radiohead, John Zorn, Blonde Redhead. I've seen a performance of Bela Bartok string quartets. I've seen Donald Brown play the piano. Even just albums I own. Nothing touched it. How remarkable is that? I can't think of anything more beautiful than the performance I saw last night.
After the first set and a brief intermission Bjök showed back up on stage in a red dress made of red glass and red feathers. She looked like a walking feather duster with a glass handle and was beautiful. She played a lot of old favorites like "Joga" (perhaps my favorite of hers), "Bachelorette", "Possibly Maybe", "Isobel", "Army of Me", "Human Behaviour", and others. Periodically throughout all of this I'd be swept away again and again.
It wasn't until afterwards, on the way home, crammed onto the subway with a couple hundred other Bjök fans that I thought back to Scott watching that Dead Can Dance film. The envy I felt for him at being capable of hearing something that moved him to tears was still there, because he's far more receptive to it where as for me, thus far, it's exceptionally rare. But at least I knew the feeling. At least I knew the touch of it.
Thank you, Bjök, for making your music.