On Thursday night, I went to the best gig of my life.
That’s a big statement. Stomping on the grass while listening to Orbital at The Big Chill last year was pretty special. Watching the full 90,000 capacity of Wembley Stadium stand up and dance to Basement Jaxx was just as beautiful. Seeing Roisin Murphy and Goldfrapp within two weeks of each another in 2008 pretty much made my heart sing.
But every time, it was the music that had me transfixed. Yes, there are always visuals and dancing (Roisin doing the running man for three full minutes was a sight to behold I can tell you), but it’s superfluous to so many acts.
Jónsi is a whole different kettle of fish. You really can’t separate music and visuals with Sigur Rós’ frontman. It was a performance, not a gig.
If I don’t know an artist well, I usually go blind – or deaf, which might be more appropriate – to the show. If I have a first-listen beforehand, I find my expectations are up and down like a yo-yo. It’s like starting primary school having read your GCSE maths textbook (note to self: do they still exist?), but not really understanding what it means.
We sat upstairs at the HMV Forum in Kentish Town (sharing a pint of cider because the bar doesn’t take cards, the swines) and waited. He started, the set came alive. Light boxes draped in muslin showed images of animals sketched to look like a study for a biology class on parchment paper. From the bottom right of each box (as well as the backdrop that covered the entire stage behind the band), the images started to flicker with ‘flames’ until the whole set appeared as if on fire and the blaze turned into bright orange butterflies. That set the tone for the night. It was mesmerising.
What followed was a jaw-dropping animation of various birds of prey and a wolf chasing their respective prey, a ‘reveal’ of a second, more industrial backdrop behind the original muslin. Cascading water, a virtual forest…the list goes on. Each song had it’s own unique accompaniment. The connection to all things natural was obvious, and both complimented and stood apart from Jónsi’s ethereal style perfectly.
His band were smiling (always a nice thing to see), and moved as a unit since each member played almost ALL of the instruments on the stage. The drummer’s energy in particular was phenomenal.
The night’s crescendo was an eight-minute version of Grow Till Tall, with Jónsi re-appearing on the stage for an encore in a brightly coloured Indian headdress. The music built, the visuals changed the stage into a storm, ‘washing away’ pieces as the song went on. The thrashing guitars, Jónsi screaming and the set whirling around the screens was intense. All the crowd could do was stop and stare, there’s nothing else you could do. There’s no point in saying that a YouTube clip will capture anything like what you feel when you’re in the room and his falsetto voice is literally vibrating the sleeves of your shirt against your arm, but check this for a rough idea.
Emotional, beautiful, but authentic (that’s the key). He’s an Icelandic genius, with quirkiness seeping from every pore. But you believe him, it’s not put on and it’s not pretentious, he’s just creative and sees things differently. I loved every second and though I might sound gushing, I was truly blown away by the spectacle of it all.
If you get a chance, go see him, I’m assured that his level of showmanship is consistent throughout his live performances. Beg, steal, swap your sister for a ticket – you won’t regret it.