Go Live begins with soundless bursts of manic lights and restless camera edits interspersed with white noise. And that’s just the title credits.
Such abrasive-rock imagery is a tad unusual for the typically mild-mannered Sigur Rós frontman, whose most shocking rock-star antics have come in the form of an awkward, fussy interview on NPR.
The harshness is temporary. From a visual standpoint, Aneil Karia’s sharp, tender direction lingers on the familiar Sigur Rós frailty we’ve come to expect. The music, a mixture of upbeat, carpe diem, Disney-esque pop utopia and lush, somber bloodletting, is performed with absolutely majesty by Jónsi’s ace live band. Go Live is more than a worthy victory lap for Jonsi’s incredible debut solo album Go—it’s actually better.
The performance, filmed in March, was the band’s first for a real audience, and there’s a giddy excitement that permeates every piano stroke and falsetto swoop. The densely arranged stage is a flurry of keys, bows, and mallets, each player seemingly as hypnotized as the reverent audience (which inexplicably donned animal masks for the occasion). Yet Go Live is much more than just a “concert DVD.” Similar to Sigur Ros’ recent DVD release Heima, Go Live mixes performances with interviews with band interviews, backstage footage, and the kind of visual asides that have come to define Icelandic cuteness: fluttering butterflies, shapeshifting, film noir forest animals, and solitary trees weeping in the snow.
For Go, Jónsi wrote most of his lyrics in English, a decision spurred from his boyfriend, Alex Somers, an American, and the heavy amount of English they speak at home. Since English is Jónsi’s second language, there’s a certain naked naïvety in the words, which he divides into two camps: the upbeat songs, which are about “letting your dreams come true,” and the slower, bleaker songs, which are concerned with “the fear in your stomach that keeps you down.”
“Tornado” falls into the second camp. In its Go form, it’s a cathartic, tearjerking highlight, one of the most heavenly things Jónsi’s ever been a part of. Playing it for their first audience, the band wrenches even more emotion, Jónsi’s alien tenor creaking while percussionist Thorvaldur Thór Thorvaldsson dramatically beats the living shit out of his cymbals, his thick beats providing additional heft through a looser live feel. “Sinking Friendships” is more dynamic, with Thorvaldsson’s jaw-dropping, borderline jazz-fusion drums and sparse, ambient interjections, all gracefully framed, shots of each player interspersed with drizzling water scenes.
As a band mission statement, Sigur Ros once stated they were going to “change music forever.” In 2010, Jónsi mostly sounds like he just wants to have fun. With Go and now Go Live, Jónsi has dropped the last stitches of the mystical, metaphorical cloak that’s always shrouded both his music and persona. He’s no longer some bizarre Icelandic alien with the voice of an angel—he’s a regular guy with the voice of an angel.
Hello, Jónsi—it’s nice to finally meet you.