Monday, May 3rd, 2010
Jonsi at The Sound Academy in Toronto
Frank YangThe revelation last year that Sigur Ros frontman Jon Por Birgisson was readying a solo project under his nickname of Jonsi was met with great curiosity, but also some trepidation – after all, Sigur Ros hardly seemed the sort of band that set limits on how they defined themselves, so what sort of additional creative freedoms did Birgisson need outside of that? While questions about the future of Sigur Ros were answered in a recent interview – they continue to work on new material – the answer to the first question would come earlier this year in the form of Go, a record that could easily have been sold as the new Sigur Ros record (if you didn’t check the liner notes for personnel), but also justified its existence as something completely distinct.
Obviously Jonsi’s otherworldly voice is impossible to disassociate from Sigur Ros but beyond that, Go takes the poppier bent that 2008’s Med sud I eyrum vid spilum endalaust was noted for and runs – nay, frolics – with it in jubilant numbers like “Boy Likkoi” and “Go Do” while balancing it out with slower, sweepingly dramatic compositions… not unlike any given Sigur Ros record. How Go sets itself apart is in the details – it’s more heavily orchestrated thanks to the contributions of Nico Muhly and under it all, the songs are more conventionally structured, perhaps speaking to their simpler, acoustic origins. And oh yeah, he sings largely in English – this does dispel some of the mystery that’s integral to Sigur Ros, but does create a new kind of intimacy with the (anglophone) listener, even if it turns out Birgisson isn’t dispensing universal truths and wisdom. All of this is, of course, splitting hairs – it’s clear that whichever vehicle Birgisson chooses to channel his creativity through, he brings with him his unique aesthetic and magic and whatever he calls it, it’s something to behold.
And while his main project also sets an unbelievably high standard for live performance – their last visit to Toronto left Massey Hall filled with plumes of confetti and jaws on the floor – on Friday night, Jonsi proved he could impress just as well on his own. Originally scheduled for two nights at the Sound Academy in theatre configuration, the shows were folded into one with the hall at full size just days before the performances – officially due to the logistics of tearing down the elaborate stage set, but many believed it was simply overambitious to book someone whose name has little recognition beyond has fanbase for a multi-night stand. Which may have been true, but it’s also true that in addition to being one of the most reviled venues in the city, it’s also got one of the biggest stages in terms of square footage and laying eyes on the Jonsi setup last Friday night, it was obvious why that was a necessity.
The stage was decked out in a combination of exotic instruments, lighting rigs, scrims and screens, and yet everything had a rough, naturalistic finish that made it feel decidedly cozy for those in attendance. But just because it wasn’t built to look overly grandiose at first glance didn’t mean that advance word of the intense set design by 59 Productions was overstated. The show started on a solemn note, with Jonsi leading off with the acoustic non-album track “Stars In Still Water” and rendering selections from the slower part of his repertoire in even more drawn out and dramatic fashion while he and his band were simply lit and the accompanying projected animations looking like ghostly nature spirits around them, or a wall of flames devouring them. Just as astonishing as what we were hearing was how we were hearing it; the Sound Academy is not famous for its great sound – it’s usually acceptable at best – but on this night it sounded immaculate, with every delicate nuance of their performance heard loud and clear. The same couldn’t be said for the sightlines – I swear, if they just raised the stage a foot or foot and a half, the only thing people would have to complain about would be getting there…
As the set progressed, the tempo and energy swelled and the big pop moments of Go – “Go Do”, “Animal Arithmetic” and “Boy Likkoi” were joyous exclamation marks in the set, breaking the tension that had been built masterfully to those points and making the audience simply erupt. Throughout the course of the hour and fifteen set, they performed all of Go and a handful of new songs, and for one night only there was a special addition to the set with the band singing “Happy Birthday” in Icelandic to two of their crew. The show was perfectly paced and structured for maximum breathtaking theatricality, culminating in the encore finale of “Grow Til Tall”, in which the intensity of the musical crescendo was exponentially greater than on record and still matched, if not eclipsed, by the thunderstorm imagery that swept across every screen and surface of the stage. It was complete and utter sensory overload; I’m surprised anyone’s brains were still able to access the necessary motor skills to applaud. But we did, and even though it seemed an inadequate payment for the musical gift we’d just been given, it was all we had to offer and judging from the depths of the bows from Jonsi and his band as they took their curtain call, it was graciously accepted.
Under The Radar interviews Anna Persson of Sambassadeur and learns why the band have not and likely will not be touring North America anytime soon. But if you’re willing to travel there, Persson gave MOG a quick guide to Sweden.
The Radio Dept have no such excuses about traveling – besides not wanting to, I guess – and with Clinging To A Scheme receiving largely luminous reviews, they’ve got plenty of incentive. Not that I expect them to capitalize on it… Soundproof has a feature interview with frontman Johan Duncanson. Update: Turns out they do have an excuse for not touring, as they tell Exclaim.
Broken Social Scene are marking the release of Forgiveness Rock Record with a special one-day, hometown in-store tour. On May 9, some configuration of the band – or perhaps four different ones – will be playing four shows around Toronto, starting at Criminal Records at 2PM, Rotate This at 4PM, Soundscapes at 6PM and finally Sonic Boom at 8PM, with limited guaranteed-entry tickets available with purchase of the new record at each of the stores. Hopefully this is old news to you as they had special dispensation to sell the record since last Friday, well before the official release tomorrow, but if not, better call each of these fine retail establishments to see who – if anyone – has got some ducats left. There’s feature pieces on BSS at NPR, National Post and The Toronto Sun, and they play the Toronto Islands on June 19.
Sarah Harmer, whose new record Oh Little Fire is due out June 22, will play a record release show that evening at the Palais Royale – tickets $32.50.
The Flaming Lips/Spoon double-bill scheduled for July 8 at the Molson Amphitheatre just turned into a triple-header with the addition of Tokyo Police Club as opener. Their new record Champ is out June 8.
The reconstituted Hole have set a date at the Sound Academy for July 10, $35. I suppose having a definite when and where is better than hanging out on an overpass and just hoping to see a train wreck.
Video: The Black Keys – “Next Girl”
If you’re the sort who hates Summer and would rather look forward to Fall – and happen to take lunch near the Eaton Centre – Woodpigeon will be playing a free show at Yonge-Dundas Square at 12:30PM on October 6 and $100 do the same the following week, October 13.
And looking even further ahead, the Killing Joke show originally set for May 25 but postponed has been rescheduled for December 7, still at The Phoenix. Tie a string on your finger so you don’t forget!