It’s a gloomy Monday evening in Manchester, but amid the rain and wind comes the melodic sounds of Mountain Man, a trio of folk singing sirens hailing from Vermont beckoning all in ear shot into the dark Academy one building. A woodland backdrop of twisted trees and tangled branches sets the scene perfectly as they lure a large crowd to await the main act – Iceland’s most prolific export besides temperamental volcanoes, Jónsi.
Patiently waiting, the natural looking background mixed with the calming pre-show music transports audience members from their grey Mancunian surroundings to a place deep in the forest where seemingly anything can happen. As Jónsi and his band appear from the darkness, the anxious murmurings of the audience turn to cheers before falling deadly quiet as the Sigur Ros front man begins plucking the opening notes of the haunting Stars in Still Water. Snared by Jónsi’s almost angelic voice, the silence in the crowd is such that a pin drop would seem deafening. Accompanied by his band, all decked out in clothes embroidered with colourful earth tones reminiscent of Where The Wild Things Are, the Icelandic singer powers through Go his expressive side project album in it’s entirety without stopping to breathe.
And expressive is the key word here. All those fans secretly hoping for a snippet of their favourite Sigur Ros track will be left disappointed, for everything about his show screams growth and progression. It’s clear that this is Jónsi expressing a side to him that has been pent up for a long time. Conveying the joys of freedom from the constraints and expectations of a more established band. As his piercing voice shines through the shadows, the band change gears with the up beat track Go Do aided by the ever present digital backdrop displaying a range of woodland imagery, from eerie abstract sketches of owls to a phalanx of fireflies dancing across the stage and surrounding the band. It’s in tracks like this and Animal Arithmetic where Jónsi’s music really comes into its own. A separate beast from anything created prior, something familiar but refreshingly different all at once, with the audience dancing in time with the thumping bass drum.
A live run through of Go makes up the majority of his 90 minute set, treating fans to some exclusive non album tracks including the sombre Icicle Sleeve. However, the band save their most impressive feat for last combining Jónsi’s other worldly voice with projections of digital rain and chaos for an extended rendition of Grow Till Tall. Returning to the stage wearing a colourful tribal headdress, he summons a storm in the intimate building, rising to a crescendo that totally encapsulates the audience. The visual and musical spectacular peaks and slowly subsides while Jónsi and co exit the stage leaving the crowd speechless, unable to process what’s just hit them. It’s an experience that will stay with them long after they emerge from the wilderness of Academy one and back into the calm of civilisation.
Catch Jónsi at the following tour dates:
8 September Leeds Academy
9 September Birmingham Academy
11 September Bestival Isle of Wight
13 September Bournemouth Academy
14 September Brighton Dome
Photography courtesy of Karl Child