House of Blues Boston
May 5, 2010
After much anticipation, Jónsi finally decided to take a breather from Sigur Rós and go solo. Upon walking on stage, he looks shy and unassuming. With his feathered headdress and raggedy clothes, I imagined him and his band as nomads who go from place to place to tell a powerful story about the journey to freedom. As soon as he parted his lips to sing, the crowd quieted down to listen.
His first few songs were slow but hypnotizing. He completely transforms when he puts his fingers to his guitar, his presence imposing and his voice beckoning you to get closer, to go deeper. Like moths to a flame, we flocked to him. He closed his eyes while he crooned into his microphone in his native tongue and I had no idea what this gibberish meant, but I could feel it. His voice trembled with fear and his wistful face said all there was to be said. He was a caged bird who lived gazing between the bars, waiting for the moment to escape.
One only begins to ascertain the power of his voice and his words with Tornado, in which fear destroys him from the inside. “I wonder if I’m allowed to ever be free,” he pondered, and a little later, images of animals fighting yield to a window breaking as the backdrop falls.
The story is put on hold while Jónsi greeted the crowd for the first time during the concert, about 30 minutes in. With some small talk about the Red Sox game next door, he lightened the mood and moved on to Go Do, an anthem for liberation. I flailed my arms in the air and stomped around, dazed like the rest of the crowd and smiling like an idiot. Brightly colored lights shone on us as he extended his arms and danced around, the fabric dangling from his sleeves making him look like a winged warrior.
The thing about listening to Jónsi perform is that it is always satisfying. His records are beautiful, but the nuances in his songs are much more noticeable live. His voice breaks a little and you can listen to him take gulps of air to sing the fast ending to “Boy Lilikoi”, and the quirks lend charm to his performance. His music is much more moving when you can see that he’s not only playing, but living, feeling, breathing his music. And while he prefers to stay in his bubble and limit interactions with the audience, it would be superfluous anyway. A brilliant performance like his does not require winning the crowd over with cheesy sing-alongs and everybody-put-your-hands-togethers.
His band does not go without praise. In the few instances I could tear my eyes away from Jónsi, I focused my attention on the piano and drums, the three of them having an interesting dynamic. Ólafur manages to master the full range of emotions Jónsi´s songs dictate on the piano, while Þolvaldur controls the intensity and depth of the sound. The rest of the band fills in the gaps to give the music some color. And while the music is so beautiful it could stand alone as a masterpiece, his words are a great complement. Jónsi has the playful soul of a child who believes that anything is possible and wants to grow out of his mold, and his lyrics show that. “We should always know that we can do everything,” he tells the crowd, and it rings true in my ears.
Those who come to Jónsi expecting to get a concentrated dose of Sigur Rós: Prepare to be disappointed. Jónsi emphasizes that his sound is his own, and it shows. He stands front and center to set himself apart from the band backing him. Away from Sigur Rós and playing with younger people, he sounds rejuvenated and fresh, as if he needed the break. I would consider his solo act a complement to Sigur Rós, both working around the same idea but each giving it his own interpretation. Still, it is deserving of consideration from purists, since it feels like he is picking up where his last album with the band left off and taking that work in a new direction. And what a beautiful departure it is!