Before a sold out crowd at Chicago’s Vic Theatre, Jónsi captivated with a performance that grew more mythical with each passing moment. Exceeding all expectations – and expectations were unfairly high - the evening transcends a mere rock show and proves to be a complete audio and visual experience which will leave you in complete and utter awe.
Taking the stage in a shirt with dangling feathers and tailored to appear torn and tattered; Jónsi was a storybook character brought to life. From stage left a lone spotlight beamed through the darkness to fall on him as he performed the yet unreleased “Stars in Still Water,” a somewhat subdued opener that features a delicately plucked guitar beneath Jónsi’s soft angelic vocal. The next two songs, which included “Hengilas” from Joni’s first and only solo release Go (2010), continued in much of the same heavy mood, with the singer remaining fairly stoic and close to his mic. It wasn’t until the fourth track, “Kolnidur,” that the show truly opened before us to reveal the full splendor in store for the evening. Kolnidur may not be the best track of 2010 but it will likely be the most beautiful. The song is one continuous building crescendo that ceases to relent until its final moments. While the song features a darker musical undercurrent than most of the tracks on the album, it is no less euphoric. It was followed by “Tornado,” another number with darker implications, which created a dynamic contrast to the later songs, particularly the unabashed exuberance of “Boy Lilikoi” and that jittery, joyous ode to youth, “Animal Arithmetic.”
Beyond the music, the performance is a striking visual feast for the eyes. During the show images are cast onto a huge screen at the back of the stage to accompany the music and it may be the most fully realized and immaculate marriage between audio and visual of any rock show yet. The images range from radiant sketches of animals dancing across a dark backdrop to elegiac imagery, of a forest or birds in flight.
With only one album under this solo project thus far, the set consisted of almost the entire recorded album, as well as a handful of unreleased songs. Many of the unreleased numbers even managed to outshine their released counterparts, alluding to very good things to come for the next album. Not to diminish what the band accomplishes as a whole, which is extraordinary, but the true power of the show resides within Jónsi. The other musicians move around the stage, not unlike actors in a play moving about the shadows, while Jónsi stands front and center delivering his monologue. Images race, lighting changes, the mood varies and the backing musicians switch instruments keeping the show in a constant state of flux, while the one constant, those soaring, unearthly vocals, manage to keep all of it in the background.
The evening is brought to a dramatic climax in the final song of the encore, “Grow Till Tall”, in which Jónsi, now draped in color and wearing a feathered headdress, screams into his mic as a tempestuous storm is simulated on stage. Simply put, the show is the greatest 80 minute dream you will ever have.