There aren’t many tours that come with their own trailer and there aren’t many tours which take in relatively small venues that employ a theatrical production company to help build it. The plan for Jónsi’s first solo album tour is a cross between film, art, theatre with animation and, of course, the live music element. With a pretty good history of live performance behind him with Sigur Rós you’d certainly give him the benefit of the doubt prior to this show. That said, while a lot of the album that Jónsi is touring is very accomplished and captivating in parts, a lot of the music often just reminds the listener of his work with his main band, and there is something about his singing in English that often bursts the other-worldly aura that Sigur Rós have woven around themselves. It also comes across as a bit too sweet in parts perhaps and State hadn’t even bothered to track down a ticket until we were sent a gushing, blubbering text from a friend on the way out of the Brussels gig.
The stage that greets is like something you stumbled across in a forest – tall trees reach up on huge projection screens in the background while a small series of downward lights make it look more like a camp than a stage. Jónsi blends right in, with his trademark feathered and patchwork jacket. Soft acoustic numbers including ‘Hengilas’ bring us gently into the gig. The huge screens behind are slowly coming to life with some truly stirring animation, all nature-based and very fitting to the scene before us. The unreleased ‘Icicle Sleeves’ becomes a bridge from the first, slower section. It ends on a pulsing drumbeat and with all the lights off a spotlight below the drummer follows the pulse on and off and this leads us seamlessly into ‘Kolnidur’ and you can feel the second act beginning to rise up.
There are many non-album songs on the set-list, but the album tracks which often have a subdued feel on the record burst out in this performance and become new. The captivating stage scene creates real intimacy and songs like ‘Tornado’ float like they’re on a huge swell, all peaks and troughs. The visuals are good enough to sit and watch in silence, but at the same time never distract from what’s going on below – everything is linked and the visuals feed this forest-clearing idea of intimacy. The band are tight and focused and it often sounds like there are twice as many of them.
From ‘Go Do’ we’re rolling. Jónsi is out from behind his guitar for many songs, goading the crowd into action and a dramatic ‘Around Us’ sees him sing into two mics and hand the crowd one at a certain point. Cheers. Clapping. More cheers. A great closer, and if we get an encore we’d certainly be happy but if we had any idea of what was in store we’d have put on seatbelts.
The sweet ‘Animal Arithmetic’ is welcome and is a booming, come-all-ye – the most overtly happy track of the evening. Animated trees are gently swaying and slowly the leaves blow off and float about (it’s hard to overestimate how good the animation is). Four minutes of pin-drop crowd silence follow as Jónsi sings ‘Grow Till Tall’ almost alone and then the drums come in subtly and snow falls softly across the screen. By now he’s wearing a feathered head-dress and as the guitars build and the drumming pounds, he’s shivering and the snow builds and throws photos and shards of glass across the screen. Every instrument is raising the game and the amps rise to nine, to ten to 11. Massively loud now, the screen is a blasting storm and for all the world we’re looking through a huge glass window at some sort of apocalypse. Eight minutes in and the blizzard gets so intense that it’s almost all white and then – calm. Every soul in the room gets released and it’s a hard-hearted person who wasn’t swept away.
What was a calculated experiment in raising the bar on a live show (Sigur Rós were always chasing this too) becomes, at the end, transcendental. Every song is a character in what was more of a story than a gig. It’s hard to believe anything other than live music can do this and there tonight was its new benchmark.
Photos by Jacob Bekker Hansen