Manchester Apollo

A small, barefoot, white-clad and Alice-banded figure who resembles (knowingly and purposefully) a ballerina-cum-fairy princess, actually becomes a hunter, a fountain of blood, a broken heart, a br

Manchester Apollo

It's quite an exit. "Thank you very much for coming," she gargles, like an overly formal lover, her reedy speaking voice coming as a jolt after the molten effusions of the past one-and-a-half hours. Then, with a curtsy and a flap of her white frock's batwings, BJVRK is gone; two love-in encores under her belt and the people of Manchester in the hollow of her hand. For us mortals, it's back to the realm of the resolutely unmythical: the queue for the toilet and the shuffle for the door, after living a life - however brief - of pure spirit.

Bjvrk - Icelandic composer, fashion icon, single mother - does that to people. The portents are ominous: the final leg of a year-long world tour; a stage set that resembles a primary school art assignment; a rainy night in Manchester when the United football match is on TV. But the minute the Icelandic string octet strike up the familiar, foreboding motif of 'Hunter', and beats scatter in from the far corner of the stage where MARK BELL hides behind a tangle of electronics, a new logic takes hold. A logic in which a small, barefoot, white-clad and Alice-banded figure who resembles (knowingly and purposefully) a ballerina-cum-fairy princess, actually becomes a hunter, a fountain of blood, a broken heart, a bringer of noise and much else besides. It's quite a trick if you can pull it off: taking several hundred people through the looking glass with one mere warble of a golden tonsil.

Disbelief suspended, the lush charms of 'Venus As A Boy', unfurled early, work even better than on record. The percolating noises and amniotic warmth of Bell's wizardry add new depth to a familiar portrait. But, as in all the best fairy tales, the air of starry-eyed wonder turns out to be something of a red herring.

Because it's not long before an uneasy pathway of jarring beats announces the start of the mythical forest that Bjvrk intended to lead us through all along. Bravery will be required: the difficult dynamics of 'Immature' turn into the many-sided math-hop of 'All Neon Like', and we're stranded in the dark heart of the 'Homogenic' LP where the weird magic of Bjvrk's singles is exchanged for a thorny tangle of emotion scored by STOCKHAUSEN. It's really scary in here, with only Bjvrk's increasingly dissonant yelps of frustration to guide the way.

Once conquered, though, the fear turns swiftly to exhilaration. 'Human Behaviour''s massive percussive power is nothing compared with the alchemical clout of Bjvrk's voice in 'Bachelorette', possibly the greatest thing she's ever written: she turns lust and heartache into an almost physical presence, imperious in its neediness... before beating it to a steaming pulp with the insanely hard double-helix beats fired off first by 'Hyperballad', then by 'Violently Happy'. The dancefloor nous that made Bjvrk a clubland hit is present here in spades, but there's a great deal of ALEC EMPIRE-style punishment too. You can't help but wonder what the dignified string section make of it all, sitting quietly through the storm.

Delicacy does make a final stand in tonight's second encore, though; the oh-so-quiet that descends on the Apollo as weeping strings unfold into 'The Anchor Song' is as devastating as the techno thunder that went before. And when Bjvrk sings, "I dive to the bottom/This is where I'm staying", her voice like rubbed crystal, the collective lump in our throats could be rolled down the aisle.

Soon, the mundane task of finding coats and getting home will be uppermost in our minds. But let's see if we can let that one moment hang, just a little longer...

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