Review of Go Live Album by Jonsi

Without going into the whys and wherewithals behind Jonsi Birgisson's decision to go it alone and record his first solo album, it would be fair to say that the result of his wares, 'Go', found itself heralded as something of a masterpiece. Indeed if critical acclaim is anything to go by, its clearly held in the same high regard as many of the prolific works Birgisson has conjured up as one quarter of Sigur Ros. That the album itself and Jonsi's subsequent live shows featured none of the other members of the aforementioned band speaks volumes for its creator, although the much of the initial praise on the studio version of 'Go' undeniably landed at the feet of arranger Nico Muhly. However, anyone expecting this double CD/DVD package to be little more than a cautionary run through of the record and little else is in for a very pleasant and welcoming surprise.

Jonsi Go Live Album

That many of the songs are re-worked, in some cases improvised suggests 'Go' the record only told half the story. What's quite interesting here is the way the live album and DVD documents the tour almost like pages from a diary. Whereas the celluloid footage, taken from his first public solo performance at London's Mills Studio in March of last year has a mawkish nervousness about it for the most part, the audio recordings, split between shows in Belgium's Ancienne Belgique and Brighton's Dome in May and September respectively, hint at an artist increasingly comfortable with the new lease of life administered by his solo project.

Not just restricted to the nine tracks that encompass the record, four new and previously unreleased compositions are included here along with 'Sticks And Stones', initially recorded for the soundtrack to Dreamworks Animation feature film 'How To Train Your Dragon'. Of these, the genteel sway of opener 'Stars In Still Water' and simply titled 'New Piano Song' glisten in stark contrast to the more upbeat 'Saint Naïve', a close compatriot of both 'Go Do' and 'Boy Lilikoi', which it precedes on the CD. The fourth new song, 'Icicle Sleeves', builds slowly from the outset into a stressed out ball of orchestral dynamite that not only sounds at home amidst such hallowed company, but clearly hints at possible diversions for 'Go''s follow-up, were there to be one in the offing.

Returning to the DVD, it stands as a fascinating insight into both the making of the record and its transformation into a live setting. Spliced with various pieces of interview footage, it's quite revealing and no doubt refreshing for any struggling musician watching to hear Jonsi admit the concept of 'Go' was something of an ordeal from the outset ('It scared me.. it was fear that got me through it') to the heart-warming creative process he describes as 'Grabbing certain words to create an image in my head'. Some of the accompanying musicians also get their opportunity to comment and one backstage scene, where Jonsi and band are filmed inadvertently dancing to Van McCoy's 'The Hustle' offers hilarity (check those moves!) and a premium display of inter-group harmony simultaneously.

Visually elaborate, the whole exquisite artistry of 'Go' as a live experience is firmly encapsulated by the closing 'Grow Till Tall', at over ten minutes long nearly double the length represented by the original studio version. Flashing images of haughtily sketched animals (think the accompaniment segments to Mew's 'Comforting Sounds' only more primitive) collide ambiguously with heavy instrumentation that exceeds 'Go''s deftly angelic persona.

As a commemorative souvenir of Jonsi's first tour, 'Go Live' makes for essential viewing and listening. Furthermore, it exudes a transparency far beyond such token gestures, its contents exposing Jonsi Birgisson's placid demeanour in all its insular glory.


Dom Gourlay

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