REVIEW: Jónsi & Alex bathe Los Angeles’ Orpheum Theatre in sublime sound

Riceboy Sleeps, Jónsi, Sigur Rós, Alex Somers

Jónsi Birgisson and Alex Somers, Courtesy: Lilja Birgisdottir.

LOS ANGELES — If the new analogue remaster of Riceboy Sleeps caught some ears, the long-awaited orchestral performance of the record rattled the soul. Ten years after Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi Birgisson and film composer Alex Somers released their immaculate ambient project, the post-music power couple joined the Wordless Music Orchestra for an experience like none other. Not an inch of the Orpheum Theater could escape the enveloping sonic tsunami.

Jónsi & Alex, Jónsi, Sigur Rós, Alex Somers

Jónsi & Alex perform with the Wordless Music Orchestra at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles, California on Oct. 15, 2019.

Riceboy Sleeps getting the treatment it has deserved for so long finally realized its under-appreciated beauty. The performance rose to triumphant heights and unblemished depths, fully realizing the breadth of emotion and composition Somers and Birgisson created together.

A combination of string, percussion, brass and voice, the Wordless Music Orchestra followed its conductor as it contextualized the entire album with beauty. Somers and Birgisson often blended seamlessly into the dense arrangements. Whether they played guitar, piano or even music box, the entirety of the orchestration that stole the show.

Like the original album, the concert was not meant to be taken on a song-by-song basis. Clapping between songs was frowned upon because it broke the submerging mood. The atmosphere Somers, Birgisson and the orchestra generated felt like a hot spring into which the audience could ease itself. Each musician took the perfect amount of time to build upon simple ideas until the end result became a force of nature. Birgisson joined the choir in his non-verbal ecstasy. The performance’s choral-driven sections drew near to the sacred music typically reserved for cathedrals.

While the orchestra had a conductor, his guidance reflected the music’s drifting nature. He often stopped entirely during sections driven almost entirely by the two songwriters. These sections relied on intuition and nuance, as Birgisson’s bowed guitar and Somers’ expressive piano playing cascaded over the orchestra’s minimalist dronescapes.

The performance managed to expand the horizons of Riceboy Sleeps without sacrificing its roots in ambient music. Transfixing in its monolithic grandeur, the oceanic resonance of every instrument rumbled to the core. And yet, regal harp plucking and delicate flute motifs still had room to shine. Whether the orchestra implemented concert bass drums, bowed vibraphones or whirly tube, every sound remained immersed in intimate bliss. The awe-inspiring might realized in the performance ultimately circled back to the gorgeous drowsiness two lovers created together a decade ago.

The Wordless Music Orchestra started off the night with an immersive classical ambient piece called “All Animals.” The world these musicians created far exceeded the confines of the room. The use of field recordings deepened this sentiment. The piece was effective enough by itself, but one extra ingredient pushed it over the top: Pop Rocks. Audience members found packets of the candy on their arm rests. During the final crescendo, the conductor gave the signal and everyone ate a mouthful.

The result, while presumably different for each attendee, represented a unique cross section of physical and audial sensation. Having your mouth filled with crackling sweetness and your ears assuaged by blissful ambiance was indescribable. In the end, that encapsulated the essence of Riceboy Sleeps in all its enchanting glory. Where Jónsi & Alex gave a peak into their inner world on that album, this live experience dove into that vibrant environment.

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