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Story and photos by Matt SchwenkeWith the enigmatic Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós on hiatus, lead singer and guitarist Jónsi Birgisson brought his ethereal falsetto, a new band and a massive cross-platform stage production to the Pabst Theater for a solo tour performance that was nearly as engrossing as performances with his regular bandmates. Touring in support of his first solo release Go, Jónsi sings most of his new songs in English and a few in Icelandic and explores lighter tones and more energetic tempos, all of which are a departure from his earlier work.
Lit by a lone light at the front of the stage as he opened up with his voice on full display in "Star in Still Waters," Jónsi would begin to blend into his surroundings during "Hengilas," in which images of butterflies projected on cracked and broken screens at the sides of the stage fluttered about and the image of a map projected on a backdrop appeared to catch fire and burn away to reveal an even deeper stage set-up. Just as the audience could make out what appeared to be a half-destroyed wall of a factory building with twisted metal and a tree at the back of the stage, multi-layered screens and lights projecting across the entire stage produced a 3-d appearance of a large animated owl perching in the tree at the back of the stage and watching a mouse crawl in. As the song built in intensity and the owl went on the hunt, the images shifted in a blaze of lights to a wolf chasing after a deer, and "Kolnidur" hit thunderous levels in percussion and vocals.
The broken screens on the side of the stage, the wasteland scene in the background and even Jónsi's recycled-looking attire created a theme of stringing broken or neglected parts together into a beautiful new arrangement, and as the band huddled around pianos and xylophones at the center of the stage for "Tornado," Jónsi's harrowing falsetto tied together pounding pianos in a fragile fashion, while a host of drums and electronic sounds propelled his voice above the churning water in "Sinking Friendships."
Not without the minimalist moments that harken back to Sigur Ros, such as in "New Piano Song," the encore featured a very animated Jónsi in a multicolored headdress stomping about to a grand, upbeat and uptempo mix of sound in "Animal Arithmetic." With Jónsi's unmistakeable falsetto slowly reaching dizzying heights of vocal samples in "Grow Til Tall" to end the show, a standing ovation at curtain call gave marked approval for a fascinating tapestry of art forms.
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