Jónsi JónsiGo Live
I suppose that some of you must have a healthy envy of our work: not everybody has the opportunity to meet some of their favourite musicians face to face, to have a bulimic desk piled with hundreds of albums for coasters, and to drop by festivals without having to pay on the way in. This free reflection isn’t intended to invite you to share your green-eyed monsters in the comments section—although you can, if you feel like it—but rather to give you some background about something that happened to me a few months ago, much to my dismay. Saturday 19th June, Sonar. The obligation to write about some of the concerts on the last day of the Barcelona festival led me to contemplate Bryan Ferry’s struggle against an early retirement leading Roxy Music. Missing that show was a sort of historical—or divine, if you like—justice that screwed me over and made me a martyr for life. “Do the Strand” came to an end and, only a metres away, Jónsi was on another stage presenting “Go”, his first LP without the approval of Sigur Rós –that’s if we don’t count his ambient adventure with his partner, Alex Somers, under the name Jónsi & Alex. In a display of gullibility, as I was hurrying to the stage, and even though I’m not a religious person, I was praying to all of the saints that came to mind that some technical problem would have delayed the start of the concert. When I got there, I only saw the final spasms of light of “Grow till Tall” and thousands of people levitating, in the throes of an earthly catharsis, with smiles tattooed on their faces. Jónsi left the stage two minutes later. “Fucking Bryan Ferry.” That was all I could say.
With this thorn stuck in my side since then–and considerably pissed off – “Go Live” seeks to console one for dramas like this one in the living room at home, in a CD + DVD format that is ideal for enjoying oneself on a Sunday afternoon. The graphic testimony of the Icelander’s first solo incursion, recorded by Fifty Nine Productions, the ones in charge of the artistic direction of the show, not only does justice to one of the season’s best albums, but it also represents an overwhelming, uncommon experience that surpasses the merely sensory and takes you away from it all for an hour. Transformed into a sort of Saint-Exupéry Little Prince dressed in remnants, with his fragile presence, Jónsi fills a stage that could be considered sort of a factory crammed full of idiophones and cracked screens from which expressionistic projections, vigorous animations of animal survival appear–like with “Kolniður”– as well as impressions of a dream-like, inflammable autumn, soothed by the juxtaposed rain of “Grow Till Tall”.
Translating Nico Muhly’s arrangements and the lively percussions of Samuli Kosminen to a live show seemed that it would be a very hard job for Jónsi and his team, but the result is masterful in this respect. The band that accompanies the Icelander manages to control their epic urges—and if they had wanted to, they could even have hired a chamber orchestra, although here there is only one violinist—and they perfectly complement Jónsi’s delicate nature: the luminous sparkle is emphasised, creating textures and nuances that have nothing to envy in his studio work. You need only see the intro to “Tornado”, where the space stipulated for the musicians shrinks quickly so that, in unison, and as if they were children, they are regrouped in front of various xylophones. Later, Jónsi sings again for those in attendance, and everything follows its course. The recording is that of a rehearsal held in London last March, but all of the pieces were already well prepared.
The ovation after “Go Do” and “Sinking Friendships”, as well as Jónsi’s redemption down on his knees—more or less like Thom Yorke on the “Amnesiac” tour– manipulating his voice at the end of a sublime “Around Us”, are two images that are hard to erase from one’s subconscious. If we add to this that the public is in the background, respectfully, all the time, unlike the majority of live albums, and that the album includes as many as four unreleased songs—among them “Sticks and Stones”, from the soundtrack of “How to Train Your Dragon” —what we have in the end is a sweet that you simply must try this Christmas season. And even more so after listening to “Icicle Sleeve” , the best unreleased piece that we will find, where Jónsi gives voice to a desperate beat and, with his vocal chords, manages to stop time and make us shed tears (have Kleenex close by). After seeing this, I am even sorrier (if possible) that I missed the great event at Sonar.
Sergio del Amo