Ten years after its initial release date, duo Jónsi & Alex’s ambient album “Riceboy Sleeps” still provides a transient and beautiful auditory experience, in an emotional, intense and sound-focused live performance at the Lincoln Theatre.
Although Jónsi Somers’ career began over 20 years ago with the band Sigur Rós, “Riceboy Sleeps” made waves in Belgium and the United Kingdom when it was released in 2009 alongside a visual picture book. The 2019 remaster of the album was released in July of this year, prompting this tour with the Wordless Music Orchestra, a genreless music group hoping to merge classical music with contemporary artists.
“Riceboy Sleeps” was a bit of an unusual selection to play at the Lincoln Theatre, drawing a decidedly older and less indie crowd than its usual acts like Angel Olsen and X Ambassadors. However, the dark and emotional undertones of the music still fit within the theater’s repertoire.
Ambient music itself presents a challenge to bring to the stage, as the interactive and energetic parts of typical live performances need to be eschewed in favor of droning trance-like musical qualities. This creates a conundrum in which Jónsi and Alex Somers attempt to engage in a captivating performance while maintaining the essence of their sound.
The two-hour performance began with a lengthy piece titled “All Animals,” which was released as an extra CD with “Riceboy Sleeps” in 2009, in which rainforest-like sounds accompanied swelling violins for a very experiential piece.
Conductor Robert Ames was the primary focus of this particular song, since Jónsi & Alex never appeared on stage, opting instead to let Ames perform and prime for the crowd for their show, serving as an opener of sorts. His movements differed greatly from that of an average conductor, more closely resembling a slow dance that transfixed the audience.
The animated performance of “All Animals” featured one of the most powerful moments of the show when the audience followed the lead of Ames as he cued the crowd to eat complimentary Pop Rocks that had been scattered throughout the theater. The result was a cacophony of popping around the theater that became an important component of the musical environment.
After a brief intermission, Jónsi & Alex appeared on stage to perform “Riceboy Sleeps,” standing in the middle of the orchestra, almost completely invisible to the crowd. The opening of the album moved the audience, as the swelling tones of “Happiness” were accompanied by faded lights and fog.
When introducing this auditory experiment to the audience, Alex Somers said, “We hope this will create a really beautiful, swirly moment for you all.” The outcome most certainly met expectations.
During the performance of “Happiness,” in particular, members of the orchestra created different noises to accent the music, such as whirling musical tubes or dropping rocks in front of a microphone, heightening the auditory experience.
The immediate follow-up to this song, “Indian Summer,” showcased the vocal talent of Jónsi. His magnificent voice was truly the star of the piece and the high point of the show, leaving the audience in awe despite the prominence of the ambient sounds.
Although the beginning of the showcase featured strong, emotional and interactive pieces from the instrumental pair, the excitement of the performance’s innovation began to die down rapidly after “Indian Summer.”
The closing song in the showcase, “Howl,” brought back the sounds of nature that the orchestra originally presented in “All Animals.” As the voices of the choir and the orchestral music swelled and dipped, loud frog croaks could be heard as an accompaniment to the sounds, bringing the musical performance full circle and reinvigorating the show in its last songs.
The engaging performance Jonsi & Alex could put on was oddly only used at the front end of the show, causing the rest of the show to fall flat. At this point in the program, the songs flowed into one another almost too seamlessly, creating a lulling, drowsy effect that put a blanket over the audience.
The music itself gradually faded, leaving only the croaking of frogs for the audience to hear while the orchestra slowly left the stage. Jónsi & Alex, as well as Ames, stood on stage for a moment among the bizarre noises before strolling off.
Jónsi and Alex Somers, with Ames and the Wordless Music Orchestra, delivered a beautifully emotional, though somewhat inconsistent, performance of “Riceboy Sleeps” to the audience at the Lincoln Theatre. The concert promoted the pair’s new album, “Lost & Found,” and showed off the magic and immersion that live performances of ambient music can create.