About halfway through his tour opener at Vancouver, BC's Vogue Theatre on Tuesday night, Jonsi reeled in that rafter-reaching voice of his to say thanks in his way: briefly, charmingly, Icelandic-ly.
"This is our first show," he said to the excited whoops of the audience. "So it is exciting for us also."
After years of singing beautiful, mournful gibberish and heady pop with Sigur Ros, the 35-year-old frontman has broken free with Go, his just-released solo effort.
The album is an energetic leap from his previous work -- it's Jon Thor Birgisson kicking through the gorgeous darkness of Sigur Ros and into the Jonsi-light of his nicknamed alter ego. So it's only fitting that the day of the album's release should be the same as the first day of the tour. Let's kick this darkness, already!
And kick they did. From the moment Jonsi and his band, a quartet of engaging multi-instrumentalists, rushed in, it was clear this was no Sigur Ros show. Yes, there were cello bows; and yes, there were a thousand keyboards; and yes, they were playing instruments you've never seen before or will again. But from the first, bell-clear notes of "Stars in Still Water" it was obvious we were seeing another, less crowded, corner of Birgisson's mind on display.
On a set that looked like the Museum of Natural History after a fire (trust me), a tight musical arc that fit the songs into one another like puzzle pieces, and gorgeous projections courtesy of London's 59 Productions, the show was less winsome rock and more serious Theatre. There were costumes, too: All but one band member wore a jacket trailing bright fabric strips that hung like rainbow tree moss.
But it wasn't all show. It was also tell.
Jonsi's incomparable soaring falsetto was the real draw. When he stepped out with only a guitar to begin "Stars," the audience hushed to his voice.
But when the whole band combined like a marvelous machine, as on the twinkling "Sinking Friendships" or thrashing, thunderous closer "Grow Till Tall," the Jonsi experience reaches its height. Percussionist Samuli Kosminen manages to alternatively scare and soothe with tools both expected (good old drums) and unusual (a rock, I think).
In between, "Tornado" hinted at both orchestra and film score, "Go Do" found a sunny, breakneck pop sprint, and "Around Us" was a hypnotic, trippy epic, complete with live vocal loops.
The pinnacle, however, came in the encore. Jonsi, in full Native American headdress, emerged from the side of the stage and put his plumage on full display. Then he smiled, and it was clear: Sigur Ros is a beautiful thing, but when he goes solo, Jonsi does something amazing -- he lets his freak flag fly. "I want to be a miracle," he sang on "Boy Lilikoi."
On this tour, he gets to be.
Stars in Still Water
New Piano Song
Jonsi New Guitar Song
Grow Till Tall