A volcanic inconvenience is not all that Iceland gave us this month. The Land of the Fjords and Björk also sent us Jonsi, a quirky pop star with a piercing tenor voice, asymmetrical hairdo and backup band that plays celesta, harmonium and vibes.
Having escaped Iceland before the volcano erupted, Jonsi (pronounced YAHN-see) gave a mesmerizingly arty performance Saturday in his first of two nights at the sold-out Pantages Theatre.
He gained acclaim in the '00s as the frontman of the Iceland cult band Sigur Ros, known for its magically melancholy epics that mix elements of rock, ambient and classical music. While Jonsi's new solo album "Go" is more buoyant, bright and blissful, the renderings of the nine songs from "Go" -- plus five new numbers -- suggested Sigur Ros in its moody minimalism. But this show had more personality than a Sigur Ros concert.
Fresh from the mammoth Coachella festival in Southern California, Jonsi played it small, intimate and artfully dramatic in Minneapolis. Standing on a dimly lit stage plucking acoustic guitar, accompanied by a sideman striking vibes with two violin bows, the 35-year-old cut a striking figure on the spare opening "Stars in Still Water." Sporting a mullet and a faux-hawk with asymmetrical sides and a patchwork frock with colorful rags-as-fringe on the sleeves, he looked like an escapee from an Icelandic renaissance festival (if they have such a thing).
This first song featured English lyrics. Some tunes were sung in Icelandic, some in Hopelandic, a made-up language Jonsi uses with Sigur Ros. All were entrancing because of the compelling emotionalism of his otherworldly voice, which ranged from a raspy David Gray-like lower end to a choir-boy upper register that some might mistake for falsetto. Jonsi has the most rivetingly odd and gorgeous male voice to come along since Antony Hegarty's, of Antony and the Johnsons.
Jonsi's angelic vocals were the centerpiece of every song, but each was framed by his backup quartet on different combinations of keyboards (harmonium, celesta, mellotron, toy synthesizer in a suitcase, electric piano in a wooden upright) with occasional electric guitar and percussion (whether full drum kit, vibes or cymbals).
On "Go Do" and "Boy Lilikoi," Jonsi sounded like an artier version of Owl City. On "Around Us," it felt like a Yes concert had suddenly broken out. The rest of the 75-minute set was pure Jonsi.
His sounds were complemented by creative visuals, including images and animation projected on four luminescent boxes onstage and on a gray canvas backdrop, which gave way to a mammoth industrial window with some broken panes. All of the images -- from an animated swarm of spiders on the march to a violent Icelandic tornado (what? no volcanic eruption?) -- added to the dark, dramatic ambience.
The only color in this black-and-white bleakness was Jonsi's frock and, during the encore, his headgear, which resembled an Indian headdress with bold feathers stretching down his back.
For the two encore numbers, he put away his acoustic guitar (he never played electric, as he does with Sigur Ros) and carried on like a rock star. With his body bent, Jonsi wailed on "Animal Arithmetic" and the closing "Grow Till Tall," with its building intensity and wall of white noise, which, for all we Minnesotans know, could be the sound of an Icelandic volcano erupting.
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719