Jonsi Live Review (Boston Herald, 5.6.10)

Posted on May 18, 2010

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It was easy to forget there was a band on the House of Blues stage Wednesday night, what with the towering warehouse windows and craggy Transylvanian landscapes. This was a high-concept set designed for one of this year’s more ambitious projects, the solo debut of Jonsi, leader of the Icelandic band Sigur Ros.

And it made for quite an unforgettable night.

Jonsi – dressed in a military jacket of tattered scarves – is at the tail end of a tour in support of his solo album, “Go.” By the time he ended Wednesday’s show, the first of back-to-back nights at the House of Blues,, it felt like a swarm of angry comets had devoured the room.

The heroic Jonsi’s new batch of songs move at a sprint compared to the tectonic pace of Sigur Ros. The big, blunt themes are still there, though. Elements of Old World European folk, West Coast ’60s minimalism and Wagnerian clang all figure into his mix.

Jonsi started with the soft, acoustic “Stars in Still Water.” “I am awake – the only one awake,” he whispered in tiny lullaby tones. Everyone in the room held their breath.

The song ended with Jonsi’s voice reaching a soft stratosphere, where he clung to falsetto notes like a Juilliard-trained tea kettle. Then his five-piece band wandered onstage and took up xylophones, guitars, busted suitcases, lost-and-found drums and well-hidden synthesizers.

Above them floated an enormous backdrop of projection screens,nets and ruined industrial debris, with animations of insects, owls, mice, deer and tigers hurling themselves across the screen. At one point, a curtain of parchment slowly burned away. Later, biblical rains drenched the stage until the water seemed to reach the ceiling. The whole show was suddenly sunk behind the rusty hull of a lonely submarine, and it couldn’t have been more thrilling.

The rebirth was yet to come with high-flying images of hummingbirds, fireflies and a jaw-dropping cosmic hailstorm during the chaotic “Sinking Friendships.” During the encore, Jonsi hopped around in a wildly twisting American Indian headdress, howling artfully before the night disintegrated into one last screen saver of ominous black clouds.

Opener Death Vessel – Rhode Islander Joel Thibodeau performing solo with acoustic guitar – played a set of grave western folk dirges that felt like a shaky, hollow calm before the storm of Jonsi’s production.

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