jónsi news

tour diary #3

April 29th, 2010

jónsi’s manager john best spent some time on the road with the band as they toured north america, here is the third installment of his tour diary

thurs 22 april, lawrence kansas

it continues to rain pretty much the whole 18 hours or so we are in lawrence, kansas, but that doesn’t stop us liking the place, or prevent the show being the best of the tour so far. ironically what makes it a nightmare day for the crew – tiny space, no room to load-in – are the same things that make it a great show for the band. the same constrictions that mean the folks who put the show together have to spend much of the day in the alley out the back humping gear and stage set in the pouring rain, because there is simply no room to store anything in the venue, also make the venue very intimate to play, the connection between players on stage and people in the auditorium is immediate and good, and the show benefits not only from a couple of songs being moved around, but also from the tangible warmth coming off the crowd.

maybe it’s because people are sitting on school assembly-style chairs rather than rows of bolted-down theatre seats, but the mood is less awed silence than in some places and this is definitely felt and appreciated by the band. it’s good to know you are not playing to an empty space, you know, and too respectful an audience can sometimes be read as a disinterested audience, especially by the sort of attention-seeking, needy people who gravitate towards stage – present company excepted, of course! (this is a joke btw, not some revelation about jonsi et al…or is it?)

anyway, when i go backstage afterwards i normally have a list of petty grievances about how things could’ve been better; even if it’s been 95% fantastic, it’s the 5% non-fantastic part i concentrate on). this time, however, i find myself saying “that was perfect” to the boys, and meaning it. alex says “we can play as good as that every night” and while he means it, there aren’t many shows that come out as good as lawrence did tonight.

spatula

this is especially gratifying because at midnight it becomes jonsi’s 35th birthday. heck, alex even got the crowd to sing jonsi ‘happy birthday’ as they took their bow at the end of the encore, to a lurching brass band version of the tune recorded exactly this day last year while they were in the studio making ‘go’. after the show, we do something we don’t normally do, which is go outside and invite those people who are standing round for autographs later on to come backstage and have a beer and say ‘hi’ on our turf. i feel a little sleazy asking young people if they want to come back and meet the rockstar, like some predatory roadie with a “no ass, no backstage pass” attitude, but no-one calls the police and thus we build a solid posse of people to help usher in jonsi’s special day.

among the throng are our first couple of look-alikes, and some lovely folks who’ve driven all the way up from austin texas, which is like 700 miles away.

lookalikes

oh and then there’s shane. shane is a policeman who comes down to check out a disturbance of the peace and then…starts taking his clothes off. ok, he’s a stripper who ulfur hired to surprise and humiliate jonsi in the time-honoured manner of these things.

and so, having sung happy birthday again backstage and presented the birthday boy with a superb raw chocolate cake, courtesy of a young counter-culture couple who’ve driven it over from kansas city, jonsi is cornered and conquered by the somewhat buff and utterly nut-brown shane, who avoids breaking any state laws by at least keeping on his well-filled stars’n’stripes posing pouch. the whole thing is at once hilarious and crucifyingly awkward. i hope no-one ever does this to me, but jonsi, bless him, takes it all in good spirits, although i think we are all somewhat relieved when shane calls time after two-and-a-half songs. phew!

i guess i should add the disclaimer for those poor fans who witnessed this that this isn’t how it generally plays out backstage after a show, and what you saw was a rare moment to be treasured and passed down to your grandchildren – or perhaps put to the back of your mind and forgotten about forever.

anyway, when we eventually get out of the venue and onto the bus, the insanity continues, nay escalates, with ulfur cranking the stereo up to ear-damaging levels and everyone amping up the testosterone til the air of the bus positively crackles with it. inevitably things turn messy, red wine gets spilled, glasses gets broken, people wrestle and doddi ends up with a injured finger twice as big as it should be. god, sometimes i miss the moderating presence of having some girls on the road, like when amiina would be with us. me and peter tour manager attempt to mop up the worst of the damage and then i sneak off to my bunk figuring this is beyond my pay grade.

sat 24 april, minneapolis minnesota

perhaps inevitably, yesterday was kind of low-key, with everyone retreating to their hotel rooms to lick their wounds or nurse their hangovers. i made it out in the evening to share some sushi with jonsi and alex (no fish for them, of course), by way of celebrating his actual birthday, but aside from that see no-one. they take off to see ‘hot tub time machine’, just for something to do in this strange, slightly alienating city.

next day jonsi and i go over to the other “twin city” st paul so he can play 3 songs acoustically on the current npr station. his voice hasn’t woken up yet when we arrive at the studio for the 2pm taping, so i ring ahead and ask peter tm to get something in in case it’s the start of a cold. anyway, jonsi nails haunting versions of ‘go do’, ‘around us’ and the unrecorded ‘stars in still water’. this latter is the source of some mild merriment at the station when it is revealed that stillwater is a local town which until recently was home to jessica lange and sam shepherd, and perhaps these are the “stars” in stillwater? you had to be there i guess.

after that we swing back to ecopolitan, the only local raw place in the twin cities, and then dive down to the pantages theatre in time for soundcheck, and to try out the vapouriser peter tm has bought for jonsi’s “cold”. this is unpacked, plugged in and fired up and in no time mr j is breathing in all that steamy goodness. unfortunately a couple of hours later i come downstairs and, standing around somewhat furtively, they encourage me to give it go. i take a deep draught and jerk my head back involuntarily, someone it seems has decided to see what happens when you fill it with vodka instead of water. wow! i’ve got to say not since my teenage days of sniffing amyl nitrate has something so assailed my nostrils. after this it’s a free for all with anyone to hand being inveigled into this fantastic new wheeze. predictably for a device that clearly states it must only ever be filled with water, the vapouriser gives up the ghost some time during the aftershow party, but has brought a lot of people a lot of cheer in its short working life.

anyway, having watched the show a bunch of times now i wanted to say some more about it and maybe offer up a couple of personal salutes and insights. first up, doddi. as we learned the other day doddi is not samuli who played drums on the album but, boy, is he a force of nature. this can be a pain in the arse when it’s 4 in the morning and you want to go to your bunk and have him shut the f@ck up, but on stage it’s a positive boon. the subtlety and power of his performance is truly something to behold, as some of you have noted. but have you seen the conviction with which he stamps on the suitcase in ‘new piano song’ (another one not yet recorded) to create the bass beat, even as said case slides away from him across the stage with each thud? respect doddi, now please put a freaking shirt on!

while i’m at it, i wanted to say has anyone else noticed how amazing obo is at playing the vibraphone with four beaters at once? i’ve sat in the balcony at a couple of recent gigs where you get a good overhead view, and honestly the boy’s a wonder. to play that fast and that accurately is not in any way a piece of cake, and he does have the blisters on his fingers to prove it. he’s also of course a great pianist and – as i’ve said before – drummer too, but then everyone else in the band also plays piano or keys at one time or other in the set, when you think about it, and not in any slouchy, barely competent way either, they can all really do it. that’s my piano btw, taken from my lounge, where there is now a piano-shaped gap. it’s an eavestaff minipiano, if you’re interested.

ok, now i also wanted to defend ulfur from those of you who think he’s merely playing ‘tetris’ during the two songs when he sits down fingering a tiny handheld device. i am reliably informed this is in fact a “monome”, which…well i’m going to leave it to ulfur to tell you what it does:

the monome is not only a device, but also a growing open source community on the internet. people write programs for it and share them here: http://docs.monome.org/doku.php?id=app
my program, wolves can be found here. http://docs.monome.org/doku.php?id=app:wolves

the patch makes your input signal howl. the top row triggers chimes, made from sinusoidal peaks of the input signal.

the next rows will do the same but also transpose each sinusoid by a harmonic interval.
hope that helps!

-wolfie

i don’t know does it? somehow i feel none the wiser. but anyway he also attached this diagram to clear up any remaining questions

monome

so now you know.

meanwhile, back at the minneapolis aftershow, things slide somewhat sideways when everyone on the team repairs to a nearby cocktail bar for a seemingly endless stream of noxiously potent drinks, including some icelandic variant on the long island ice tea that replaces the sprite mixer with champagne. i get a strong feeling of déjà vu, which oddly enough is the name of the “nightclub” some of our party repair to later on. jonsi is reluctantly persuaded to go home after failing to rush the security at first avenue, the local indie club, while alex picks up the “wild cannon” award of the night by slapping some girls arse in full view of a watching policeman, who pounces of the world’s least likely hetero sex pest. high on life, alex had momentarily forgotten that everyone in the outside world wasn’t a friend he just hadn’t met yet and taken backstage behaviour onto the sidewalk. luckily the interjection of a helpful crew member (yes, you matt) reasoning with the police that they were “f@cking c@nts” did not result in a good kicking and a night in the cells for all involved. close shave, i’d call that.

after that sunday is again low key, although it’s good to see the band can still pull a great show out of the bag even on heinous hangovers. thereafter band take off to milwaukee, while i stick around to finally catch a plane back to the uk, for some reason via texas and las vegas! iceland: so much to answer for.

john best

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