Opener: Mountain Man
Mountain Man is three women and (sometimes) a guitar. Opening with an acapella cut, they immediatly shut the audience up. It’s rare that an opener gets such a treatment, especially when they have soft sound like Mountain Man. Voices perfectly on pitch, they sounded better than I could have ever hoped–better even than some of the album cuts. Their Appalachia sound is one of understated, simple beauty. Indeed, at times during their set it seemed to me that the show who have been the same in front of 5 people as was in front of the thousand-odd people in the venue. That is a feat.
Soundwise, all you have to do is listen to their album, Made the Harbor, to get a perfect picture of what you’ll hear if you see them. Only “River” got a bit of treatment, simply because of audible footstomps. They have a lot of great songs, “Sewee Sewee” and “Animal Tracks” being personal favorites. Their set was noticeably short, their ten or so songs being mostly under or around 2 minutes but you can’t hate on a short, succinct set. This video doesn’t really do their sound justice, but you can find a cut of “Soft Skin” from here.
I’ve actually been meaning to give Mountain Man a full write-up for a while and I’m afraid I might never get to it. That said, this is a band to watch and a band to see.
I’ll say it right now and save anyone the trouble of reading through everything else I’m about to write: If you can possibly ever see Jonsi, see him. He gets high praise for his live shows and it’s no wonder after seeing him. Between his sheer energy, the absolutley beautiful light design and his giant-but-intimate sound, I would recommend his show to absolutely anyone–whether they like Jonsi or not, whether they’ve heard anything by him, whether they even know where Iceland is.
Starting the set slow with the mellow and typically beautiful “Stars in Still Water” and then moving to the similarly slow “Hengilás,” I was actually worried that the show might become too beautiful. It’s hard to describe what exactly that means, but those two songs while unmistakably beautiful, lack the outright energy that I loved from his album Go. This continued through “Icicle Sleeve” until “Kolnidur” when it got big. Half of “Kolnidur” is slow, building to it’s second half, a full noise break-out with giant drums and a lot of noise. On the first big drum hit, a giant white light flashed behind the band. It was at this point that the show really hit its stride, “Sinking Friendships” being a big highlight.
While I’m hating on the first songs of the show a little in the paragraph above, it’s worth mentioning that they never got boring. This is largely because of the absolutely beautiful (a word I will be using a lot in this review, if you couldn’t tell) images that showed behind the band. This projection design lifted the show to levels of artistry that rarely come through a simple band gig. Between glowing animals, rainstorms, and a multitude of other images, the projections gave each song a unique visual bent that nonetheless pulled the show into a cohesive, singular artistic goal. The band was also perfectly in sync with the lighting effects, drum hits being cued right on a big light flash and an ever-present fog giving the lights a stark drama.
This cohesiveness gave the show a sense of magic that I doubt I’ll find in many other shows. The whole thing felt like a cooler, more hip Disney movie. Again, hard to explain, but that definite sense of “magic” I think is something most people can understand, like being a kid again.
The highlight of the show was the three-punch of “Go Do,” “Boy Lilikoi,” and “Animal Arithmetic,” the three main singles from Go and my three favorites. After playing seven songs, Jónsi addressed the audience for the first. He humbly said a few words of thanks and then introduced “Go Do.” Now, if you haven’t heard it “Go Do” is Jónsi with his most optimistic of energy: stomping drums, beautfiul vocals, and grand orchestration. The only unfortunate thing about this song was that when he played it, nobody was dancing except Jónsi.
The second in this set, “Boy Lilikoi” is the picture of the “magic” I was talking about earlier; it genuinely does sound like it could be the closing song of a Pixar or Disney movie and it’s a song that really has to be heard. My favorite of the album, I was expecting him to save it for the end of his set but as a follow-up to “Go Do” it works perfectly maintaining momentum and pushing the song forward into “Animal Arithmetic,” an absolute stomper of a song.
It’s worth mentioning that a lot of the instrumentation, drums especially, was really loud. Loud enough that I was afraid the bass drum was going to blow the speaker. This instrumentation was loud enough to overtake Jónsi during the bigger parts–it worked well, but it was unexpected. For example the entirety of “Animal Arithmetic” was virtually unintelligable, but the sound was so big it was hard to care.
Closer “Grow Till Tall” was the biggest example of this loudness, becoming a huge wall of noise by the end. While it was loud, it wasn’t a grating noise at all. At times it was hard to tell if the crowd was cheering or it was just the guitar feedback or Jonsi singing, but there’s something to be said for letting a big sound wash over you, lights flashing and all.
It’s this kind of experience that’s so purely on an emotional level that makes it sound easy to recommend Jónsi ‘s live show to anyone–and I mean anyone. Really, if you can, see him.