With images of wild and wooded environments projected on a massive backdrop behind him, and plumes of smoke hanging in the air above the stage, Sigur Ros' Jonsi brought his ornate world of musical theater to the Hammerstein Ballroom Wednesday evening. Sneaking through the artificial mist, Jonsi found the dull warmth of a single spot to start the show, illuminating just enough of his figure to show those who had gathered that his alien falsetto was in fact the product of actual flesh and blood. Once turned up, the light would reveal the Icelandic musician draped in a patchwork coat...streamers and feathers adorning his costume for the night. Joining him on stage, a single musician; a vibraphone player, himself decked in flowing threads and a paper crown for the occasion. Jonsi's show, like his music, would build from there...
Jonsi came to NYC in support of Go; an album that dramatically sets itself apart from those in the Sigur Ros lot. It's a welcome artistic accomplishment, at least to these ears...for isn't that the point of setting out on your own? To try something different? With Go, that means a collection of songs that at times sound less brooding, more whimsical, and hell, even come in English. Of course, some listeners may not even notice. Like his entire body of work, Go reaches beyond line and verse, ultimately touching on something much more primordial or universal.
After a slim but oh so ethereal first song, a host of supporting musicians would take the stage, pitching in to scalp the gigantic mountains of sound via a slew of musical accompaniment...pianos, organs, guitar, bass, and various percussive set ups. What followed was a performance that seemed devastatingly serious. Choreographed, perhaps a bit scripted...though he and his band offered little to say (I think there may have been a "thank you New York" thrown in at one point. But I also could be imagining it.). All of which is fine, of course. In fact, I prefer the dimly lit silhouette of a personality such as Jonsi. A cloak of mystery (or feathers) leaves more to the imagination.
And so for 90 minutes my own imagination would run untamed, riding the long slow build of the dramatic compositions that filled the room to lofty places. Peeking around the room, I suspected most in attendance were pushed to the same places, with gazes in awe, spats of dancing, hands on hearts, or upward glances to the heavens being the most popular collective reactions.
Who knows what ideas were tracing through their heads? I just know what had taken residence in mine. And that was this: That Jonsi's songs feel as if they push up against the greater forces of nature. Part of that is intentional, if not a bit of schtick. But I also think his most genuine artistic roots spawn from the place he calls home. Iceland; a tiny island of 300 thousand denizens, each of which I'm guessing has at one time felt small in the face of the gigantic, natural forces that shape their homeland. In my mind, Jonsi's music is an attempt to go toe to toe with those forces...hence the costumes, the projections, the crackling stage lightening.
It's a battle we all face really...one in which we eventually succumb to. And so, Wednesday's show was eventually blown to bits by the projections, the clashing percussion, the angelic falsetto, and the roaring ambience of it all. In a final moment of climax, the band was placed at the center of a storm, with projected images of chairs, fences, inanimate objects - people's worldly belongings - flying through the world on stage. It was shear might and force...and then it was over. The band was gone...metaphorically blown from the world on stage. They wouldn't be coming back either. But they had their moment, and oh what a moment it was. - David PitzMore Photos:
Bonus: Check out these cool videos that take a behind-the-scenes look at the production of the Go Tour.