May 7, 2010
In the days before this concert I’d read reviews describing Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi‘s live show as a magical, awe-inspiring, tear-inducing experience that would ruin any future concerts for me. I’d seen video of Jónsi performing songs live and some behind-the-scenes shots of the stage. None of this prepared me for the truly amazing concert that I experienced though. Because of its vast scope and engrossing nature, it took me a while to collect my thoughts on this concert (which might explain my delay in reviewing). What’s sure is that Jónsi’s show at The Vic in Chicago was a unforgettable display of the Icelander’s artistic vision as he accompanied his gorgeous songs with incredible visuals that seemed more fitting for an elaborate Broadway stage show than a rock concert.
Jónsi opened the show with an acoustic song called “Stars In Still Water” the first of a few songs that to my knowledge have not been recorded on an album (possibly outtakes from a more acoustic-based Go). The new songs played were exceptionally pretty, but did not have the percussive, jubilant spirit of his recorded work, used primarily as mood-setting pieces and showcases for Jónsi’s otherworldly falsetto. The show really hit it’s stride when the band played the heart-wrenchingly beautiful “Kolnidur” which featured breathtaking visuals of running deer, flying owls, and leaping wolves across the screen curtain that encompassed the entire stage. As the song hit the climax, the curtain fell down revealing what looked like an abandoned greenhouse complete with torn down walls and fauna peeking out the sides.
Next was one of my favorites from Go, “Tornado” which featured some of the prettiest and most epic orchestration of the show as well as one of Jónsi’s most stunning vocal performances. The drumming throughout the night was among the most energetic and dramatic I’ve ever seen. When þorvaldur þorvaldsson would hit a cymbal he wouldn’t just sit idly by, he would leap out of his seat and thrust his arm in the air to finish. All of Jónsi’s band were extremely talented, and although the focus was clearly on the experience of the show and not the members themselves, it was a joy to watch them masterfully jump from instrument to instrument, including pianos, guitars, xylophones, harpsichord, and a second drum set made completely of found items (including a suitcase for the bass drum).
Another Go highlight, “Sinking Friendships” marked the mid-point of the show and had Jónsi moving to the piano to create the twinkling melodies as the backdrop featured visualized water trickling down the walls. I can understand while watching this why many have insisted on seeing the show twice (and perhaps why Jónsi is playing twice on many his stops), as it’s difficult to absorb everything that’s happening on stage. The visuals played an even bigger role as we reached the “poppy” portion of the show and singles “Go Do” and “Boy Lilikoi” were performed back-to-back. Birds fluttered and leaves fell while bright reds and greens filled the stage and the band vigorously played the euphoric tunes. The semi-title track was most delightful with Jónsi strumming a ukulele while the band recreated the intricately arranged, exuberant composition.
The set ended with the triumphant “Around Us” which began with Jónsi playing the sublime piano intro before grabbing two microphones (one which was for sampling his voice) and taking center stage. The band’s performance of this song was nothing short of enchanting and it ended with Jónsi on the floor using the floor pedals to distort and break up his voice, making it sound even more unearthly. The band left the stage briefly before kicking off the encore with the primal, frenticly paced “Animal Arithmetic”. When Jonsi came back out he was sporting a full Native American headdress, his playful, childlike dancing making it near impossible to snap a good picture of the rainbow-colored garb. Projected images showed an army of ants carrying off household items into a forest during the song.
Nothing though, could compare to the band’s final song of the night, “Grow Till Tall”. The band played their heart out, each intently focused on their instrument as the track built to an overwhelming, epic climax. The visuals matched the song’s intensity perfectly beginning with a light snow covering the screens and building to a full windy snowstorm blizzard complete with trees falling over and an array of strobe lighting effects. Jónsi (still in full headdress) was down on his knees unleashing his falsetto into the microphones while swaying as if he himself was succumbing to the storm. The song crescendoed until it was ear-shatteringly loud and then abruptly it was over.
It was a completely immersive experience unlike anything I’d seen or heard before. After the band briefly came back on stage to take a bow (very classy those Icelanders) the audience flooded out onto the Chicago streets with completely stunned looked on their faces. There was hardly any talking while the crowd exited the theater just a shared feeling that we had all witnessed something extraordinary.
There’s more Jónsi pictures after the jump. Click here for the entire set.