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Coachella 2010: Jonsi's pagan pleasures

April 18, 2010 |  7:47 pm

A few years ago, the Scottish rock group Mogwai leveled Coachellans with sheets of guitar noise so loud that people in the audience held their palms out to feel the tumult physically. Something similar just happened at a most unexpected afternoon set -- Jónsi's solo turn on the Outdoor stage.

The Sigur Rós frontman's day job is known for huge peals of sprawling guitar-prog, Jónsi's clarion falsetto and for invoking many metaphors about fjords, glaciers and such from writers. Solo, Jónsi's in a brighter mood, and cuts from his solo debut, "Go," have a welcome playfulness missing in Sigur Rós' grandeur.

His live set split the difference between them. Dressed in a shamanic Indian-kitsch outfit, Jónsi scuttled from piano to center stage, leading his band from precious orchestral pop into a roiling sea of percussion. He ran his lyrics through a series of effects pedals that further illuminated That Voice -- an overpoweringly pure falsetto that is still one of the most uncanny in rock music. But he grinned openly throughout the set, bopping in a little pagan rain dance and clearly having a blast in this new setting.

But it wasn't until the end, when he sang plainly over an ebb of white noise, that things felt dangerous. While he repeated a simple, incantatory vocal line, the band escalated the song with a busy drum corps and a deep-well bass. Guitars poured in on the margins, then overtook the song, and finally crescendoed into one of the most pristine yet violent walls of sound that Coachella's ever seen.

It blindsided the stunned crowd, yet felt a little apropos -- Iceland's on quite a roll for geologic-level intense events right now.

-- August Brown