In The Flesh

Björk, M.I.A.
Fox Theatre, Detroit, Tuesday, Sept. 11

Although opening act M.I.A. owned the half-filled theater, the boisterous élan of "Bucky Dun Gun" enveloped the room, as audience members gyrated along to the grimy, bass-heavy beats. Accompanied only by a DJ and a backup singer, the highlight of her set was an unexpected cover of the Pixies' lament "Where Is My Mind?" that — while seemingly out of place — cemented the overall versatility of the Sri Lankan rapper.

Björk began strongly with onstage confetti cannons, laser lights and yards of some stringy material shooting from her wrists. The music itself, however, felt big yet unimpressive — too low-key and incongruous next to the spectacular stage show.

This became especially clear when someone as inspiring as drummer Chris Corsano (he's celebrated in the American noise underground) was left to merely brush confetti off his drums while the boring digital beat of "Innocence" clicked along. One couldn't help but realize the actual physical performances were scattered, uneven and frequently inaudible when interspersed with the prerecorded.

One of the more captivating moments found Björk's vocals accompanied solely by a musician confusingly manipulating sound waves on a big blue circle that resembled a Doppler radar screen. Afterward, Björk interjected: "That's the first time we've done that." I couldn't have been the only one thinking "What the fuck was he doing?"

Thankfully, things evened out by the end. When the band roared into "Declare Independence," it was at maximum intensity. The rhythm throbbed as dancing erupted throughout the crowd. This culmination was a perfect symbiosis of all aspects of the show: Björk's radiant voice, the 10-piece all-female horn section, Corsano's intense pounding. The scene became a stunning tableau of pure inspiration. The trajectory of the performance — the slow, understated musical start which cracked into a beautiful arc at its conclusion — was actually perfectly planned. And it then all made sense. —Ben Blackwell


Stevie Wonder
at Meadow Brook Music Festival, Wednesday, Sept. 12

What can possibly be said that hasn't been said a thousand times before? I suppose one could bitterly complain about the traffic control (read: none) outside the theater, which left cars hopelessly bottlenecked at the intersection for well over an hour. But once inside the venue ... man, that voice! It's almost otherworldly; certainly incredible. Nothing lost in four decades; in fact, arguably better now than it ever was. Detroit was, of course, celebrated throughout the show, including an abundance of native sons and daughters (literally, in both cases) onstage, including backup vocalist Keith John, the son of Little Willie John, whose classic "Fever" was performed near the end. (Another backup singer, Aisha Morris, is Stevie's now-grown-up daughter, which made "Isn't She Lovely" — written for her as an infant—actually kinda touching.) We even got some Charlie Rich — seriously! — as he delivered his take on both "The Most Beautiful Girl" and "Behind Closed Doors," after humorously demonstrating how "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" could have been a country hit.

There was a definite lull in the middle of the show — a seemingly non-ending "Ribbon in the Sky," in particular, revealed that Stevie, like his pal Paul McCartney, sometimes can't distinguish between "classic" and "schlocky" when it comes to his own material. But the final third was hit after hit after hit: "For Once in My Life," "A Place in the Sun," "Sir Duke," Superstition," "As," etc., etc. — all pure collective consciousness godhead. The crowd adored it. I'm betting he'll be back to play a larger venue sometime soon. —Bill Holdship

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