Almost unnoticed, Jónsi takes center stage, illuminated by a single spotlight. All chatter dies as the crowd fixes on the sole man dressed in a white, tattered, feathered jacket gripping an acoustic guitar. Most in the crowd have never heard the solemn opening tune, “Stars In Still Water,” or the other six new songs the Icelandic musical mastermind will perform in his 15 piece concerto. After he holds his final note for what seems like an eternity, the remaining band joins Jónsi on stage, without time to greet the crowd. Sketches of butterflies, owls and deer appear, frozen against the back drop of the Parisian taxidermy shop set. In rhythm with the pre-battle dirge of “Hengilás,” virtual fire sweeps across the stage, leaving only a faint crackling as the creatures burn into a charred, eerie nothingness. Within eight minutes, Jónsi makes it clear – this is no Sigur Rós show.
In celebration of his debut solo album, Go, Jónsi embarked on his 2010 world tour on April 6, making Seattle’s Showbox SoDo his third stop. After more than 16 years fronting the world renowned Icelandic band, Sigur Rós, Jónsi’s Go Tour marks many firsts for the man most famous for his glass-shattering falsetto and bow-shredding guitar work. Featuring nine tracks, several of which he wrote acoustically over the past decade, Jónsi sings primarily in English for the first time in his predominantly Icelandic and Hopelandic (made-up language) music career. Co-produced by Jónsi, his partner Alex Somers and Peter Katis (The National, Interpol), Go stays true to the artist’s chilling Wonderlandesque melodies and vocals, while experimenting within the realm of schizophrenic pop.
For his first solo tour, Jónsi made sure his live performance would do justice to his cinematic music. The final production is a hybrid between a theatrical set with physical structures inspired by a famous shop which burnt down, and virtual content projected across the stage. Designer Leo Warner explains the tour is all about creating a visual environment in which “the world of the music can exist” and come to life. And, was it ever alive in Seattle.
At the show, an animated storm brews, triggered by a three-man glockenspiel solo in the atmospheric “Tornado.” Arctic blue light glows across the stage as cymbals clash in sync with flashes of artificial lightning. With Jónsi at keys, the snow storm takes full effect as icy wind rips apart bleak trees and houses to the tune of “Sinking Friendships.” Rain washes away the scene, flooding the background with video of real water before evaporating into a back-to-back, upbeat frenzy of “Go Do” and “Boy Lilikoi.” Vibrant red and yellow blooming plants grow across the screens, revealing spring life with hummingbirds and floating feathers dancing to chimes and percussion.
The visuals soon fade, retreating until Jónsi returns to keys on “Around Us,” accompanied by an aura of twinkling fireflies. Midway through, he trades piano for center stage, closing his eyes as he grasps the mic. Crouching down in a wavering trance, Jónsi screams into a climatic hysteria of glitch and distortion — the first and only time throughout the show that noise transcends his voice. As the lights die and stage empties, Jónsi returns wearing a wild feather headdress for a final three-song encore. Mushrooming clouds of green and blue morph into an icy backdrop of snow flakes, bringing the performance full circle with the last notes of “Grow Till Tall.” The audience bursts into cheer, some with tears running down their cheeks, others embracing their lovers, and many still staring in wide-eyed, jaw-dropped amazement at the five musicians while they clasp hands and take a bow.
Jónsi will finish his one-month U.S. tour on the East Coast (also playing Cochella 4/18) before heading overseas. For more information about the tour, to check out extensive video footage or to get a copy of Go visit jonsi.com.