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Heklina, a drag queen standing about 6 feet tall and weighing roughly 180 pounds, is dressed like Björk. Well, not Björk per se, but the Björk cyborg character from the Icelandic songstress' 1999 music video for her tune "All Is Full of Love." In that piece, Björk is rendered as a sleek, icy-metallic, not-yet-finished robot that encounters an identical copy of itself and proceeds to have robot sex with it. Because "Trannyshack" is holding its special -- and vigorously attended -- Björk tribute night here at the Stud bar, Heklina, who runs "Trannyshack," has decided to re-enact the scene; about 10 other queens will give the same treatment to other Björk videos.
But Heklina has a leg up. Born in Reykjavik, Iceland -- she shares her name with a volcano in that country -- Heklina speaks Björk's native tongue and even owns her first vinyl LP, recorded when the singer was just 11 and released only in Iceland. Still, there are plenty of fans who'd never go as far as Heklina (I'm a big Barry White fan, for instance, but the prospect of getting dressed up like the dude seems a little out of reach for my tall, white, wimpy frame). How does she plan to pull this one off?
"It's hard to get her mannerisms down and not look silly, so I don't even try," Heklina says. "It's really hard for a drag queen to get her look -- you know, her facial features, 'cause they're so elfin. But if you're trying to re- create a video by Björk, you really get to go all out, 'cause her songs are so conceptual."
Tonight the queens do go all out as a packed house cheers them on. There's sex, violence, fierce gazes, French kisses -- even Barbarella shows up. And while they may not nail Björk's appearance, the queens seem to channel her essence and, most of all, connect with the crowd on hand, which is more than I can say for the real Björk, who performs a few nights later. As Iceland's biggest export sadly proves that evening, sometimes the best thing about our heroes and heroines is our memory of them, and not the real thing.
Under Pier 30-32's impersonal conditions, especially when tickets are $50 a pop, I expect some Jumbo Vision monitors to help shrink the distance between me and the stage. No such luck tonight. Still, it's not uncool to see one of the greatest vocalists ever to breathe air take the stage with the almost full moon shimmering on the nearby bay. Though most of us can't see Björk's face, it's fair to say we're taken by the cinematic scene.
While Björk's early material, from records such as Debut and Post, was mostly jubilant, infused with the energy of dance music, her tendency over the past few albums has been for more subtle production. Accordingly, she opens the show with the slight and simple "Unraveled," then follows it with the dour, slow-chugging "I've Seen It All," from the soundtrack to the movie in which she stars, Dancer in the Dark. Seemingly unaware of just how big a joint she's playing -- her last tour stopped off in more intimate venues -- the ice princess is nearly inanimate at first, almost to the point of sedating the audience. But when her third song, "Joga," explodes amid onstage pyrotechnics and bursts of sky-high fireworks as she croons, "State of emergency/ How beautiful to be!" some of us can't help but chuckle. In contrast to the quieter moments, these bursts of random bombastic intensity feel showy and contrived, as if they're the only way the singer can assert herself within such a large space.
The highs and lows (emphasis on lows) of these first three songs set the uneven tone for the evening. While there's no doubt that Björk is a vocalist without peer, a singer who can have her way with every syllable, her vocal prowess is best suited to opera houses and concert halls, places with warm acoustics that are designed for listening, not watching, as this outdoor mega-venue obviously is. Which is why, I suspect, toward the middle of her set, during delectable, heart-wrenching songs like "Cocoon" and "All Is Full of Love," people are heading for the restrooms, perhaps wondering what happened to the fireworks. Unlike Heklina and the queens, Björk forgoes the high-concept stagecraft found in her videos, relying instead on the power of her voice. But it's no match for the huge space, which also swallows her "elfin" features and tiny, epileptic dance moves.
Finally, after 12 rather introverted songs, the sparks fly once again. During the ecstatic, fist-pumping anthem "Hyperballad," which segues into a supercharged version of "In Our Hands," there's a hail of multicolored explosions and four-on-the-floor bangin' techno. The upbeat mega-mix could have made for a fine send-off, but instead Björk returns to the stage with her ensemble -- which includes sophisticated S.F. electronica duo Matmos, as well as a string section from Iceland and a harpist -- for a two-song encore. Sadly, "Generous Palmstroke" and "Human Behavior," despite (or because of) the rockets' red glare, fall flat, leaving the audience to speculate if that's really all it's going to get. It is.
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