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Chris Sewell's Photo I'm a freelance journalist who enjoys live shows and independent press. Find me on Facebook.

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Concert review: Jónsi (of Sigur Rós) lights up the Pageant, Tuesday, November 2


It may seem pretentious to use the word rapturous to describe a concert-going experience, but the delight of seeing Jónsi Þór Birgisso is difficult to describe in any other way. Jónsi — singer and guitarist of Sigur Rós — is on tour for his 2010 solo record, Go. Expectations were set high for this tour for those familiar with the renowned live performances of Sigur Rós.

High expectations and all, this show did not disappoint. It was glowing.

Jónsi made a quiet entrance to a darkened stage for an intimate performance of “Stars in Still Water.” He brought the Pageant to nearly complete silence, save for his beautiful and fragile falsetto and an acoustic guitar, the moment felt delicate and sincere — a theme that would resonate throughout the evening.

The backdrop came to life with images of animated trees and animals that looked surreal and playful like something out of Spike Jonze’s reimagining of Where The Wild Things Are. The cinematic elements of the stage show added tremendously to the performance without being a distraction. This was more than just a rock concert; it was an immersive multimedia experience that intimately tied together the visual medium with that of sound.

The array of emotions and images that were displayed over the span of the 90-minute set were at times fragile, whimsical and touching, while other times the mood shifted to something more euphoric yet enchanting. The show was so well orchestrated between the epic and swelling sounds of Jónsi and his backing band and the beautiful visual imagery that it genuinely felt cinematic. It was as if theater, film and music had somehow merged together into a single experience, at once sincere and artistic.

Jónsi has dreamed up a sound that is haunting in its beauty and subtlety tender within the force of the music. The blend of synthesized, electronic elements with live instrumentation is one that many artist attempt to balance, but there is something organic about the music that Jónsi has created. One would think that images of machinery and technology would seem more appropriate to accompany heavily produced music; however, the images of nature — rain, snowfall, animals, flowers, trees — couldn’t have been a better visual representation of how this music sounds.

Nothing could better exemplify this than “Grow Till Tall,” the show closer. The song began with glitchy, electronic samples that created a cloud of frail ambience. As the piece grew more enthralling — the layers of strings thickening and the percussion entering — the images on screen grew more dizzying. What began as a small rainstorm with trees blowing in the wind picked up intensity to a heavy rain and eventually to a monsoon. Strobe lights mimicked lightning and the machine-gun style snare drum the thunder as the entire venue became engulfed in a storm of light, sound and fog. It felt very much like a Nine Inch Nails moment.

This show ran the gamut from light and tender moments to darkened chaos. The execution was wonderful. As the final song ended and the band exited the stage, the house lights went black for the musicians’ departure. The band returned a few moments later for a farewell bow to a standing ovation.

It was an appropriate ending to a theatrical performance and stage show that made for a magical night.

Concert review: Blonde Redhead shakes off subdued crowd at the Pageant, Monday, October 25

It was clear from the start that Blonde Redhead lets its music do the talking. There were no hellos and just a few thank yous during the group’s tight 80-minute set Monday night at the Pageant. The band took the stage to a sea of flickering yellow lights that mimicked candle flames as umbrella lights adorned the backdrop, reflecting gold light across the band members. The moody lighting created more of a theater feel than one of your typical rock concert.

That feeling only solidified more as red-headed singer Kazu Mokino took the stage wearing sparkly black vinyl pants and an odd white mask with blonde hair attached to it, making her appear as if she were an ominous character out of a fantasy production.

“Black Guitar” opened the set, a track off Penny Sparkle, the band’s most recent effort. Brothers Simone Pace (guitar, vocals) and Amedeo Pace (drums) were in tight sync with Mokino as one may expect after the trio’s 17 years together. Clearly this is a veteran group with a firm grip on its live show. The stage sound and house mix were nearly flawless.

It was difficult to take your eyes off of Mokino as she danced and swayed to some of the more uptempo numbers. Her hair covered her face, keeping her anonymous throughout the entire evening. Simone was equally enthusiastic, showcasing on guitar the underlying noisy, rock elements to the band’s sound. The performance was captivating and energetic, and the set design created an appropriately dark atmosphere for the music.

Still, something seemed a bit detached about the evening.

The crowd in attendance was fairly sparse, as even with the balcony closed, the venue’s main floor was only perhaps half full. For a smaller crowd the energy was pretty good, but something just didn’t feel quite right about the spirit of the show. Perhaps it was the lack of interaction with the crowd on the band’s part coupled with the empty chairs in the audience.

The songs that relied more heavily on electronic sequences came across a bit stale in the live setting. The arrangements simply were not adjusted from the studio versions and relied too heavily on backing tracks. Nevertheless, several moments really galvanized the crowd, who seemed to hold strong affections for the songs played off of the 2007 album, 23.

Highlights of the evening definitely included “Dr. Strangeluv” with its abundance of catchy guitar licks that Simone pulled off with distorted perfection.

“23 seconds, all things we love will die,” sang Mokino in her ethereal style, her voice as fragile as glass and yet as soaring as clouds, during an animated performance of “23,” which garnered a large crowd response.

The show really peaked during “Melody of Certain Three” off of Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons. “But in spite of all that, all is well….all is well,” sang Simone to a background of relentless guitar and percussion. Amedo really keeps the sound together with his onslaught of catchy beats and technical fills. The blend of sequences and live drums is seamless, merging the two together into a harmonious collective of rhythm.

After a brief intermission to a cheering crowd, the band returned for a 3-song encore that was fairly mellow. The musicians departed quickly after a few thank yous; then the house lights came on. For a band with a sound so huge and dynamic as Blonde Redhead’s, the music would have seemed more appropriate in a packed New York City venue or in a European nightclub. Regardless, the group played with much skill and passion, and the seductiveness of Mokino was nothing to scoff at.

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