With Sigur Ros on a bit of a break while most of the members spend time with family and the like, angelic-voiced frontman Jónsi decided to work on some other music and art related projects. First came Jónsi and Alex, an extremely sparse music and art project he did with his boyfriend Alex Somers. The album “Riceboy Sleeps” was a quiet collection of ethereal instrumentals that was recorded using entirely acoustic instruments. That was followed by a genuine solo album, “Go”, which was released this past spring. “Go” was probably the better of the two albums, even though both definitely had their individual merits. Neither could quite live up to most of what Sigur Ros has done, but that’s an incredibly high standard to live up to. One of the flat-out great things about Jónsi’s solo work was that he felt the need to make every live performance a special experience for the audience. He worked closely with 59 Productions to craft an elaborate stage setup with costumes and other visual pieces such as animation and video to accompany most every song. It made Jónsi one of the best live acts to see in the last year, and if you missed it, you’re basically screwed unless you live in Japan or Iceland which are where his last two solo shows will be taking place this month. Personally, I tried pretty hard to make it out to one of the three dates Jónsi played in Chicago this past spring and fall, but unfortunately just never quite got there. The good news is that this week saw the release of “Go Live” – a CD/DVD package that gives you all that Jónsi audio AND visual goodness you either missed or just want to see/hear again.
First, the “Go Live” DVD is worth the purchase price alone. It was filmed at Jónsi’s very first solo live show on the “Go” tour, back in London in March. He and his backing band play eleven songs, a couple of which are unreleased, in the sense that they didn’t appear on the original “Go” album. No Sigur Ros songs or Jónsi and Alex songs (even though Alex is part of his solo tour backing band), just Jónsi solo stuff. Adding the visual element to these songs in this particular case actually serves to enhance them from their original states, really just taking art to the “next level”. Between flowers growing, birds soaring through the air and rain pouring down in sheets, it’s a visual feast for the eyes that feels as inspired by Jónsi as Jónsi surely was by it. There’s a distinct lack of highlights on the DVD, mostly because the entire live show as a whole can be considered a higlight. As a teaser though, outside of a trailer a lot of the focus has been on a wonderfully extended version of “Around Us” that makes all the right moves. Eleven songs and 73 minutes is more than fair for a DVD such as this one, but that doesn’t quite compare with the 14 tracks and 75 minutes of the CD that comes with it.
Lacking the visual stimuli but packing a nearly equal punch, the audio-only portion of “Go Live” was pulled from a show in Belgium back in May and a few tracks also come from a Brighton, England show this past September. Given that the studio version of “Go” only spans 9 tracks and this CD is 14, that means 5 new songs you might not have heard before. Granted, tracks like “Stars in Still Water” and “Icicle Sleeves” were pretty much played at every solo show Jónsi did, and “Sticks + Stones” appeared on the “How to Train Your Dragon” soundtrack, but in all likelihood you haven’t heard every single one of these tracks. Just to have high quality recorded versions of the unreleased stuff is worth it, and all the songs are so damn good you’ve got to wonder why the unreleased stuff didn’t make the original album. Another great thing about Jónsi live in general is that the crowds are more than respectful. Plenty of live records are marred by too much audience interaction or singing along and things of that nature, but outside of little bits of applause before and after a handful of tracks, most everything is silent as night. It leaves the CD in pristine audio quality to the point where it sounds like a studio recording, only a little more insistent and playful. The DVD fares equally well audio-wise, though the visual element takes some attention away from that. Things to pay close attention to on the “Go Live” CD include a harrowing 7-minute rendition of “Tornado”, another equally great 8 minutes of “Around Us”, plus the new/unreleased songs. Naturally though, Jónsi likes to save the best for last, which is why a 10+ minute version of “Grow Till Tall” ends both the CD and DVD. It’s the sort of thing that makes you wonder why it’s only 5 minutes on the original album.
The majority of live CDs and DVDs are not worth your hard-earned money. Any artist can put 5 cameras in a concert venue, perform a straight show and then release it. There’s no real need to be interesting, provided it sounds good enough. There also seems to be a casual approach to crowd noise, as some artists feel it necessary to prove a “connection” to the audience or are just sloppy when it comes to editing that out. Those crying fans singing along with your every word? Let’s put that on the DVD because our fans are passionate. Jónsi’s fans are every bit as passionate and every bit as connected (if not moreso) than any other artist, but “Go Live” doesn’t play those cards except for very conservatively. The people responsible for putting this package together fully recognize that this show is an artistic expression akin to a play or a painting in an art gallery. You don’t boorishly yell things out in the middle of a play, nor do you rub your greasy hands all over a Picasso. You look but don’t touch. You listen and don’t interrupt. Throw in unique renditions of songs you already know and a handful of new stuff, and an already worth it package becomes a must-own. “Go Live” is better than the studio version of “Go”. The songs retain their beauty but flourish beyond that into something triumphant and even more exciting when heard, and the visual side from the DVD half deepens the art in a different way. Released just in time for the holidays, the “Go Live” package is makes for a wonderful gift for that Jónsi/Sigur Ros fan in your life.