Friday, November 25, 2011

Jónsi — Go Live

I guess consider me rather late on this one, as it has been available on his website since late last year. But, you know what? It's not how long it takes you to get there that matters, it's what you see when you do that does.

And, boy oh boy, I see many things.

Just ignoring the fact right up front that the entire first half of this album is one of the quietest, most reserved and downright spiritual pieces of live music I've ever heard, I will say that it feels like pure giddy triumph when he bursts into a piece of totally rare stage chatter after the whole thing and the opening glitchy sampled vocal loop of 'Godo' begins and the crowd, subsequently, finally relents and there are some genuine and very audible 'WHOOOOO!!!!!'s to be heard (amidst a clap-a-long, of course — yes, it gives me chills).

Now, I liked Go. It sounded exactly like I hoped it would: reminiscent of Sigur Rós, but with more of a poppier slant and a sort of streamlined approach to the band's music. Nine songs; none in great excess of the five minute marker and all with a nice layer of post-production and a delightful sheen that was neither kitschy nor over the top. And yet, it left something to be desired.

(in a good way, but I digress)

But this guy right here?

He's a bit of different beast altogether.

Where Go felt very much like a knee-jerk reaction against his band's never ending funereal pace, Go Live is just as much an affirmation of that kickback as it is a reassurance that Jón Þór Birgisson, as the frontman of one of the most unique and important bands of the past decade —the singer and guitarist as most of his listening audience knew him prior to his solo album— is still very much the artist and the man that made them love him in the first place.

As you can see above, the album wears a sticker that boasts five new songs among its contents and they are very much more along the Sigur Rós brand of Jónsi's repertoire, filling out the album's spiritually (and revelatory) calm first half; not only with compilation tape fodder but with genuine and true SONGS that make this a rare case where the live album bests its studio counterpart. The performances are great, sure. But it's the sequencing here that sets this one apart from the rest.

As I said above, the slow and quiet bunch is packed up front. Starting with the nearly solo acoustic "new" song 'Stars in Still Water', the album begins on this somnambulist, nearly pastoral thirty-seven minute meditation of ballads and, predictably, it's the perfect soundtrack for watching slideshows of aurora borealis (that is, unless you can watch the real thing in person). The third track is 'Icicle Sleeve.' Easily on par with the best of anything Jón has previously done, it's definitely the highlight of this album for me. As the song seamlessly segues into 'Kolniður,' everything comes fully into focus: this is no toss-off of a live album. This is the real deal.

Capturing the musician in a venerable stage of unsureness, presenting the new songs to an audience unfamiliar of the material but familiar with the musician's new (yet, unheard) direction is a rare thing these days. Hell, people with the stature of Sigur Rós rarely even play b-sides, not to mention completely unheard material. It makes the opening five song suite as heard on Go Live extra special as, not only do the songs flow flawlessly, the audience is on Jón's side the whole way. And it's a little redemptive to hear someone present so immaculately such definitive versions of the songs. New or familiar; doesn't matter. The familiar songs had emotional aspects to them before, but with the new songs and the intimately perfected familiar ones, these are all the most poignant recorded renditions of the tunes.

And when those uptempo numbers kick in on 'Godo,' it's just complete chills. He just poured his soul out to complete strangers and now it's time to dance a bit, okay?


The anticipatory between song claps, the chorus to 'Animal Arithmetic' sung in Icelandic, the extra long, noisy (noticeably Sigur Rós-esque) coda to the closer 'Grow Till Tall'; it all feels very celebratory, very rewarding.

I liked Go.

I absolutely love Go Live.

It harkens back to a time in rock music when a live album was supposed to be a statement within of of itself — a unique entity that was more than just a complimentary piece.

Far more than just "recommended if you like", Go Live is the definitive account of Jónsi as a solitary unit outside of Sigur Rós. He is a unique and infinitely intriguing musician on his own; this album has plenty of evidence.

The accompanying DVD isn't too shabby, either, presenting nearly all of the songs on the audio half in alternate recordings and professionally shot.

The stuff that I keep listening to music for.

Go Live can be purchased from Jó


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