jónsi’s manager john best is currently on the road with the band as they tour north america, here is the second installment of his tour diary:
sunday april 18 – coachella
wake up in the desert on a bus in a long line of near identical black tour buses. someone has obviously decided that black is the default colour for 21st century band buses. personally i preferred it when they used to have cheesy airbrushed wolves howling at the moon on the side, but just as that style’s become hipster daywear, so it’s fallen off the slower fashion cycle that dictates bus design. one thing: it makes it hard to find your bus when you’re wasted, or so i imagine a few folks found out later on. anyway, i digress.
i think we’re all glad they keep moving coachella earlier in the year, since it’s hot like a freaking desert out there. oh wait, it is the desert. with a polo club. shame i didn’t bring my mallet and my good friend prince charles. both times sigur ros have played at coachella in the past we have quite frankly sucked, even though people are always being nice and saying it was great, actually it wasn’t. today though, i’ve got a good feeling, even though this’ll be the first time we will have played without the “scenery” which we are carting round our own theatre shows.
the day is spent pleasantly and without obvious focus; getting a coconut to drink here, riding the golf carts to catering there, people watching backstage or in the (not very) vip area, and, when boredom sets in, challenging one another to tasks of physical prowess in the small picket fenced area by our half-portacabin. personally i’m a big fan of this way of making the time pass. jonsi shows us how he can balance on two hands while laid out flat a few inches off the grass.
ulfur passes on the wisdom of the ancients in how to rise from a cross-legged position while holding your nose and one ear via arms crossed beneath your legs. sorry if this is hard to picture. obo meanwhile hurts both his thumbs (a slight problem in a piano player) by doing his aforementioned handstand push-ups and some kind of hand-spring thingy. i weigh in with diving over plastic chairs into a forward roll. quite graceful, even if i say so myself.
and so the time evaporates like spit on a griddle. we catch a golf cart to watch some of owen pallet, who is always so impressive with his crazy use of loop pedals to build a song from the ground up. and then back to base to chat to dean deblois about how to finish our work-in-progress sigur ros live film, and tell doddi to put something on his bare head to avoid collapsing from sunstroke later on. (he lies in a darkened room for much of the gymnastic fun – loser)
thankfully the sun goes behind some high cloud around 5pm and the heat starts to go out of the day. jonsi hits the stage at five to six, and i immediately feel like this is going to work out just fine. even though soundman jelle is not on his usual mixing desk, and even though ulfur’s super-cool analogue bass synthesizer (housed in a tatty suitcase) malfunctions in the heat, from the get-go it’s pretty great, and people seem more than just casually engaged, whopping and hollering when doddi gets his camera out mid-song to film the assembled throng.
this being the first festival we’ve ever done, the set order could perhaps do with some tweaking and, in fact, we come up close to 10 minutes short of the allotted time, so i guess we could have played another song at least, but whatever it’s a huge relief to see that the show can exist without the show, if you see what i mean?
afterwards we drink some champagne – having shot the cork and half the contents over my backside. there is a minor misunderstanding with the second bottle when some random ‘hot’ female from the band next door’s cabin tentatively asks if she can have some and jonsi asks if she’d like it in her ass or a cup. she looks nonplussed and we realise something may have been lost in translation.
anyway, after that we golf cart it round the site, seemingly all the way back to where we started, so that jonsi can spend an hour or so signing his name to pleasure the people. it’s good to see so much vinyl coming across the table, and there’s even a copy of the kompakt 12-inch remix of ‘gobbledigook’ that jonsi has never even seen before.
we catch a bit of thom yorke with flea on trademark 80s slap bass, before we have to leave site ‘cos we have a 7am call in la to go and do kcrw’s ‘morning becomes eclectic’ radio show. nighty night.
monday april 19th los angeles
well, that was a short night, but contrary to our expectations everyone is ready and daisy fresh for the drive to santa monica. none of us gets why we have to load in at 8am when we don’t play til 11.15am, but them’s the rules apparently, and since kcrw was the first station in the states to play sigur ros we owe them an early start at least.
in the event it’s a glorious morning close to the ocean and we sit around the campus grazing on canteen food and goodies from the raw food trunk. back inside the live room’s great with a tasty grand piano at our disposal. radio sessions are so much easier now than in sr days of yore, when the very thought of playing live would out all four members under a major cloud for days either side. now it’s all so much water off a duck’s back, and jonsi isn’t even overly phased when switching from guitar to piano he loses the sound of his voice in his headphones and has to stop and start again, causing a few seconds of dead air, which is a major no-no on live radio. once upon a time that would have been it a hefty downer, but today’s it more ‘meh’ – as i believe you kids say – and we move on with our day not noticeably perturbed.
after kcrw we just have enough time to head further into sta monica to patronise juliano’s ‘famous’ raw food restaurant and continue jonsi and alex’s endless search for the purest whatever in the world. today it’s sea-salt that is raked only with wooden rakes to keep out the impurities metal rakes impart. i guess this is what happens when you really think about this stuff. whatever, juliano’s food is super tasty, so i ain’t complaining.
from there we make a fast clip back into west hollywood to cbs studios to tape a performance of ‘go do’ for the craig ferguson show. like all these us tv shows the studio is kept uncomfortably cold to give the guests some kind of ‘edge’. everyone at the show is warm, however, and there’s no posturing or drama like you might expect to occur at a major tv show.
first time the band run through the song jonsi misses a beat in his singing while checking over his shoulder that drummer doddi is in fact going to remember that they are meant to be playing a shortened version of the song, since the performance has to be kept under 4 mins to qualify. second time, however, the thing is nailed to floor in no uncertain terms and our work here is done. on the way out we check out a labyrinth of sets from other us tv shows both familiar and unfamiliar, and then inveigle brendon fraser, who’s also on craig’s show, into having his picture taken with us, cos he’s, like, a ‘real’ celebrity, well, after a fashion.
we stroll outside, but it seems the crew have taken the only transport and so we sit around the tarmac of the parking lot making up all sorts of stupid games to keep us amused while we wait for another van. honestly it’s amazing how much fun you can have in a seemingly featureless parking lot if you turn your mind to it. we did ultra short sprinting; hopping races with traffic cones between your knees; pushing-and-shoving battles on top of a narrow concrete barrier; throwing a hat frisbee-style onto a distant cone; and racing round a tiny chevroned area – all under the disapproving eye of the security guard, who’d love to stop us but can’t really think of a justification. we have a blast, especially after the subtle background stress of such a promo-filled day.
in the evening we unwind with a trip to the arclight cinema to watch ‘kick ass’, which definitely wants it both ways in terms of being smart:dumb, but is nonetheless an entertaining enough way to pass a couple of hours. thereafter band take off in the bus to denver via a day spent cutting loose in zion national park in utah, while i wait in los angeles for a flight that will never take off because of the knock-on effect of the icelandic volcano. thus i kick around in la for a day, before deciding to hop on a plane to denver and rejoin the tour til the insanity literally blows over. so, no tour diary tomorrow, unless the band want to get off their lazy arses and write it themselves. but that ain’t going to happen. when i do come back remind me to tell you about how often doddi is mistaken for samuli, who drummed on the album, and how much it’s beginning to get on his tits. til then…
wed april 21 denver
oh yeah, the boys in the band. we were thinking that you should have a simple who’s who guide, since as i said a lot of people assume doddi is samuli kosminen, who played drums on the album, while others make the mistake of thinking obo is nico muhly, who did similar piano duties on the album. so, in order to clear up this minefield of disinformation we bring you an idiot’s guide to jonsi’s band…
drums/perc/keys: thorvaldur thór thorvaldsson aka doddi
jonsi only works with live drummers born on the 4th of july, this being his second after orri from sigur ros. for his part, jonsi is doddi’s second ‘jonsi’ after a stint bashing skins for iceland’s eurovision entry. doddi is something of a wild card, loose horse, dark cannon. happy to do all the r’n’r behaviour on behalf of everyone. seldom seen backstage with a shirt on. studied percussion in florida. one of the great icelandic drummers, more or less unknown at home.
piano/perc/keys: ólafur bjorn ólafsson aka óbó
óbó brings an intellectual intensity to the band, especially with those buddy holly horn-rims. played drums with múm and nix noltes at various points, but studied piano and later composition at the same school as kjartan from sigur ros back home. likes riding his gary fischer mountain bike round reykjavik, running and reading philosophy. aquarius. not nico muhly. “that makes me sound like sting,” he grumbles.
bass/monome: úlfur hansson
úlfur brings an androgynous beauty to the set up. loves obscure electronic music and, at the other end of the spectrum, black metal. actually plays in a “blackened hardcore” band back home, as well as making knob-twiddling computer nonsense built out of field recordings. avid knitter. works in iceland’s premier thrift store, sputnik. such a nerd that he actually does play dungeons & dragons at the weekends. at 22, the baby of the bunch
keys/guitar: alex somers.
jonsi’s bf, co-producer and artistic collaborator on last year’s ambient triumph ‘riceboy sleeps’. raw food evangelist, who plays against type by often being the secret party animal in the band. unfamiliar with the concept of mornings, except under extreme duress. loves joe meek, girl groups, and filthy b-more hip hop – like every good maryland boy.
guitar/vocals: jon thor birgisson.
sometime singer of sigur ros and fulltime workaholic. has about 4 or 5 separate projects on the go at any given time. much more silly than his public persona allows, but at heart a deep and alluring enigma.
so now you know.
don’t see denver til after soundcheck, but apparently missed a great party on the bus from la to utah, which seemed to result in some late rising for the planned day trip into utah’s scenic wonder.
regardless the band manage a three or four hour cycle ride into the park, depending on who you ask. kind of sorry i missed it.
the venue in denver is a gorgeous old cavernous art deco theatre into which the show fits comfortably. we’ve tinkered minorly with the setlist, so hopefully it will flow better than ever. the non-raw element of the party agree to accompany doddi on his search for steak to the local hard rock café, which is frankly weak and poor judgment on our part, since it’s wrong on pretty much every level. we do not tarry long.
the show is pretty good, although sound guy jelle says we must never play the two new songs saint naïve and new guitar song back to back ever again. combined they are something of a passion killer, i must say, so we won’t be doing it tomorrow. an exclusive for you there folks of denver – but not in a good way.
the aftershow is enlivened by the arrival of tristan, wife of long-time sigur ros/jonsi video director stefan arni. she comes with some friends from colorado springs and we have a time of it dancing to whatever hip hop we can locate on doddi’s ipod and drinking the modest rider dry. this mood is carried onto the bus through the solid rain outside and results in some juvenile battling for control of the stereo between ulfur and jonsi. i’d like to tell you what they played, but nothing stayed on for more than a few seconds before being gonged off and replaced by something equally fleeting. and so to bed.