Live Music + Gig Reviews

Jónsi @ Forum, London

26 May 2010

The time is 10:15pm and the song being played is Grow Till Tall. As it progresses along to its thunderous conclusion (almost literally – the visuals being displayed depict a worsening thunder storm that tears away at anything in its path), Jónsi, frontman of Icelandic post-rock group Sigur Rós, is grasping his microphone like he was fighting against the elements himself, adding layer after layer of harmonising to create an unstoppable force of nature. It’s an ending that leaves almost everyone watching open-mouthed and stunned by its sheer power and force. It’s intense.

None of this was anticipated 75 minutes earlier. For the last few months, Jónsi has been building his own momentum outside of Sigur Rós with his solo material. His own solo shows, made in conjunction with theatre production company 59 Productions, have been described as ‘epic’ and ‘innovative’ on web forums. Having just done a trek of the US and Canada, tonight marks the opening of Jónsi’s European tour. Backed by a band of multi-instrumentalists, it’s not really known what’s going to happen until it fires up.

The start perhaps caught a few spectators unaware, due to its acoustic-leaning nature. The first three songs are all stripped back and sound intimate, giving the impression that this isn’t as grandiose as was hoped for. However, when Kolniur gets going – a sweeping slice of drama combined with breathtaking visuals that culminate in the screen being lowered to reveal the main stage set up – it quickly gathers momentum and stays that way for the next hour.

The set is comprised of the entirety of Jónsi’s debut solo offering, Go. Boy Lilikoi and Animal Arithmetic are packed full of energy and enthusiasm, whilst slower numbers like Tornado and Henglias are given room to breathe in the Forum by a crowd that is largely hushed in silence, wishing to hear every note plucked. The rest of the set is filled with new material that isn’t featured on the album but slots in well against the better-known songs. They’re also much more tender and soft in their arrangements, as songs like Stars In Still Water and Saint Nave could fit just as well into a Sigur Rós set.

In a way, there are comparisons to be drawn to Jónsi’s day job; the way that the music is presented is very similar visually – the drums and piano are in the same place, for instance – and the intensity of the performance. Chances are, anyone who’s seen Sigur Rós live were very likely to enjoy this venture. But this was a solo show that was meticulously planned, carefully crafted and masterfully executed; to the point where it felt like more than just an ordinary concert. It also has the rare achievement of leaving gig-goers completely awestruck and speechless with amazement. Station queues afterwards were full of buzzing voices. Yet this is a set from a man who only has one album out so far. Side project or not, who knows what he could achieve if he continues to go it alone?

Jónsi played: Stars In Still Water, Hengilas, Icicle Sleeves, Kolniur, Tornado, Sinking Friendships, Saint Nave, K12, Go Do, Boy Lilikoi, New Piano Song, Around Encore: Animal Arithmetic, Grow Till Tall

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Jónsi @ Forum, London