Jónsi at Marquee Theatre Last Night

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Marquee Theatre in Tempe
Saturday, October 23, 2010

Even when he sings in English, I have absolutely no idea what Jónsi is saying. But at last night's show at the Marquee Theatre, that didn't matter at all. His music transcended language barriers, and was understood as a profoundly moving performance, which I would even go so far as to call "performance art," rather than simply a concert. Everything from the sound to the lighting to the animation projected onto the stage backdrop came together to make something more than a rock show. It was an experience, if the expression can be forgiven. There's just no other way to describe it.

The Icelandic frontman from Sigur Rós has a boyish, bleating falsetto that conveys his emotions regardless of what he's singing, and is further helped along by a hybrid language, coined "Hopelandic," which essentially takes parts of various languages and mixes them together with other sounds that don't have concrete structure or meaning, taking the place of or blending in with the lyrics. It sounds confusing, I know, but when you hear it, you know what he's trying to say, even if you can't understand the words (because, really, they aren't words at all).

It was almost impossible after the third song to be indifferent to the performance, since the reverberation from the drums and organ vibrated in every body, and from then, the real show was off and running. A friend and I even commented that the drums were "just like that part in Jurassic Park." You know the part, with the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the water glass. The heavy bass buzzed and Jónsi's vocals permeated every last bit of space in the room, and with the animation for each of the songs, I completely forgot that I neither knew nor could even begin to understand the lyrics.

The show was nonstop stimulus, physically from the vibrations, visually from the lights and animation, and sonically from the music. I lost track of everything I was thinking about, of time, of my friends, and was transfixed for an hour and a half because it was impossible to tear myself away. Jónsi was playing guitar, xylophone, piano, wearing a feathered headdress and a crazy outfit made of feathers and what appeared to be tatters hanging down, and his band was nothing short of masterful.

I need to take a moment to further explain Jónsi's use of animations. Usually at shows, the backdrop is a plain curtain, an image of an album cover, or some sort of moving graphic. Each animation last night, however, was pure art. There were flying birds whose canvas slowly appeared to be burning away and turning into monarch butterflies, sketched animation of a deer and a fox battling, ants marching together across the screen carrying various items (money, cigarette butts, soda cans, and pieces of paper with other ants drawn on them), and a violent rainstorm whose animation was perfectly timed with the lights around the stage and the accompanying music, creating a thunder and lightning effect. Without hesitation, this show was the most visually breathtaking show I have seen in my life.

A weird phenomenon occurred at this concert that I have never seen before at a concert: touching. There was so much love in the room. All around me, I could see people hugging, grabbing shoulders, rubbing heads, in both romantic and platonic ways. Both of the friends I was with put their arms around me and rubbed my back at various points, and the girl next to me gave her boyfriend a neck and shoulder massage during the show. At first, I wasn't sure what it was about Jónsi that made people want to show affection to one another, but then I realized, it must have been the Hopelandic.

Critic's Notebook:
Personal Bias: I love the sense of childlike wonder Jónsi's music evokes. I really enjoy his album, Go, which reminds me of how Disney music made me feel as a kid.
The Crowd: Very stylish. Dressed more fashionably than other shows I've seen at the Marquee, maybe because Jónsi is European, and therefore, more sophisticated than American artists, so the audience needed to come correct. Don't get me wrong, the audience looked really good.
Overheard in the Crowd: One guy in shorts and a polo to another guy in shorts and a polo: "Yeah, we're never getting laid in this crowd."
Random Notebook Dump: I liked that he and his band came out for a final bow, which showed more gratitude and class than just walking of the stage and not coming back after the last number.

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