Show Review: Jónsi at Zellerbach Hall, 4/15/10

by Carla Deasy on April 17, 2010

All I can REALLY say is that you didn’t go to this show, you’ve just made the biggest mistake of your life.  Let me tell you all about it.  Maybe you made it up to yourself by seeing it last night in San Francisco, or you can make it up by traveling to faraway lands.  Really, its worth it.

Even my photographer Andy Stolarek and his boyfriend Jason drove all the way up from LA with his boyfriend to catch this show.  They actually were in Iceland the year before last, ran into Jónsi at a bar and spent the next day and something hanging out with him.   The beautiful gay men have a way of finding each other.  You know how it is.  But Iceland is a very small place with 300,000 in the whole country.  Even the women serving them lunch at a restaurant had a connection.  When they told her they just hung out with Jónsi, she nonchalantly sated “I have a nephew in the band (Sigur Rós).”  Just like that.  No big deal.

Well, to us, its a big deal.  And last night was a HUGE deal.  I have never been to a more beautiful, magical show.  And those words seem nonchalant compared to what I really mean with them.

I feel a little guilty for walking into the show a little late, that just meaning I didn’t see more than the two songs of the opener:  singer/songwriter on an acoustic guitar.  Even worse, I didn’t catch his name nor is it on the ticket, internet, nothing.  But I settled into my seat in the dark.  Row H, middle, pretty freaking perfect.  Thank you record label!  That’s what I thought then.  Now I think they deserve big kiss right on the lips.  I might even be their Backseat Betty but hey, this is a public forum.  I can’t expose all my secrets.

I’d never been to Zellerbach Hall before, and when the lights came up after the opener finished his set, I was a little taken aback.  It was a Bauhaus nightmare.  You know the last music scene in Labyrinth where Jareth/Bowie has given up on Sara’s affections as she’s running the Escher-esque set to get back her step-brother Toby.  Yeah, like that.  Anyway, I decided it had no power over me, and actually liked the fact that I couldn’t see the Mezzanine and Balcony levels above me.

I thought the set before me looked rather lame, as it was a splotchy looking tarp hanging on the back wall, and some these two boxes on either side of the stage.  Rather drab for the lead singer who comes from such an ethereal sounding band as Sigur Ros.  But as the lights descended and  Jónsi Birgisson took the stage, things started to change.  He opened up his set with an acoustic song, which frankly made me nervous.  I had just finished watching the performer he has on tour with him, and after submerging myself in his solo album this week, I was anxious to hear it.  The song ended and I held my breath, waiting for the next song.  I wanted what he had to give me, and was prepared to cry like a toddler if I didn’t get my way.

And then it all started to happen.  As he moved into his next song, and the rest of the band joined him on stage, the massive back screen and four boxes all light up with these scientific drawing of deer, foxes, butterflies, owls, eagles and trees.  I kept looking at Jónsi’s outfit, and now the other band mates.  They were all strangely Native American looking with scarves and tatters creating makeshift wings.  The projected drawings reinforced that sensibility.  And as this song ended to transition into the next, the projections underneath burned up to reveal a swirling captivating landscape underneath and now the boxes on the sides of the stage were light up with 3-D monochrome butterflies the color of flame.

This was the beginning of the most stunning video instillation I have even seen, but it did so much more than just tantalize.  This album was a folklore, and these were the cave drawings illustrating that story.  Much more than simple rock opera, he wanted us to be moved, stirred up and electrified.  But most of all, there was a wonder and hopefulness of youth and fantasy that he brings out that us aging spinsters sometimes tend to forget.  Oh, this jaded world!  But not the world of Jónsi, not tonight.

The racing wolves, the owls circling overhead, the trees swaying in the wind.  Maybe this couldn’t have been done with Sigur Rós.  As a collective band, the music has a tendency to expand, loose and ethereal.  The songs for Jónsi’s solo album were much more concise and direct.  Much more “song-like.”  They definitely served a different purpose than the works of Sigur Rós do.

I was overjoyed to be there with the wild splashes of color, the gigantic paneled glass frame which stood before the backdrop cloth on stage filling with projected water, other times serving to create the illusion of inside and outside, and then crossing those boundaries. The ants and spiders carrying modern refuse out and away from them.  The one boundary I wanted to cross was being in my seat.  The ecstasy of sounded wanted to move out through my body, but looking around I think I might have been the only one dancing in my seat.  Maybe it was me alone that felt the beyond-Catholic reverence, I wanted to rain dance with Jónsi, his beautiful voice, the enchanting music, and his feathered headdress.  I could have lived in his world forever. Or find the set designer, apprentice with him, and make beautiful images my life, like I went to school for.

I can tell you all this, you can look at pictures, but you should have been there.  You really should have.

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Special thanks to Andy Stolarek for taking the photos. More of his work can be found at

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