It was hard to know what, exactly, we were witnessing.
Bolts of electricity shot about the center of the stage, always in time with the music. Voices harmonized, while laptops hummed. A harp was plucked elegantly and beats, both synthetic and organic, thumped pretty much nonstop. A pipe organ played on its own and huge pendulums swung to the earth's gravitational pull.
Dancing, prancing and crooning in the midst of all the otherworldly action was an Icelandic female choir, which anchored the whole shebang with 20 heavenly voices.
Then there was the star of the show herself.
Of course, I'm talking about Bjork. Who else would ever dream up such a spectacle and then dare to take it on the road?
The Icelandic alt-rock legend, who is now 20 years into her solo career, is certainly still pushing boundaries. Her current Biophilia Tour is one of the most wildly adventurous shows in rock 'n' roll history.
The singer launched this trek in June 2011 and has been slowly, steadily moving it about the globe, usually performing multiple nights in each market. On Wednesday, the multimedia spectacular finally reached the Bay Area — setting up shop at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond. The show will be repeated on Saturday and Tuesday.
The Craneway isn't well known for hosting concerts, and it's safe to say that most fans had to use GPS to even find the building. Yet, it proved to be a perfect spot for the production. It was roomy enough for the "in-the-round" setup, with fans on each side of the stage, and the large windows provided great views of the Bay. Plus, the sound was crisp and clean in the building, allowing the many musical nuances to be heard — even if it wasn't always clear what, indeed, we were hearing. I hope that promoters decide to host more major shows at the Craneway.
The choir had the first say of the evening, opening the show with the traditional Hungarian song "Oskasteinar," and then Bjork appeared to sing "Thunderbolt," from the 2011 album "Biophilia." Her bushy, oversized wig shone in the colors of rainbow sherbet under the lights. When the lights dimmed, it resembled a mane, making Bjork look like a character in "The Lion King" musical.
More than half of the set list was devoted to "Biophilia," which one might assume would be a problem. The record is, after all, her worst effort to date — and, in my book, the only clunker in her otherwise stellar catalog. Yet, these songs came across much stronger in concert than they do on disc.
Still, the capacity crowd of some 4,000 fans understandably showed the greatest enthusiasm for the older material. The audience erupted when Bjork led us into the "Hidden Place" and then belted out "Pagan Poetry," both of which hail from 2001's excellent "Vespertine." The latter was the highlight of the night, as Bjork's passionate vocals were cradled by the choir's ethereal harmonies.
The show would've certainly benefitted from the inclusion of more fan favorites. There were times when the crowd seemed to grow a bit restless, perhaps from hearing too many newer songs in succession, and I can't help but think that "Hyperballad, "Army of Me," "Unison" and/or "All Is Full of Love" would've fixed the problem.
Yet, if we've learned anything over the last 20 years it's that Bjork is always going to do her own thing. Fans just go along for the ride — which, in the case of the Biophilia Tour, is one heck of a trip.
Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic, www.facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.
Bjork in concert
When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Tuesday
Where: Craneway Pavilion, Richmond
Tickets: $75.; www.ticketmaster.com