I’ve been listening to Sigur Rós for about five years now and never thought to go see them in concert till a friend of mine told me they were playing in LA and said that he had a ticket for me, so I went for it. I could never fully characterize Sigur Rós on my musical mental map, often placing them within their own genre. If I were to feel the urge for something twinkly yet subdued, I wouldn’t normally think, give me some ambient; or if I wanted to hear something soaring and emotional, normal folkey-rock or vocal techno wouldn’t enter my mind–I think of Sigur Rós. And within this same vein of thinking I could never place them within the genre of post-rock. They just play ridiculously amazing music, music that gives me the hope that there is something better and more real than what is played and passed off as the “thing.” So that’s my short homage to the band. Now for the concert.
I have seen close to, if not more than, 100 live concerts, anything from Jazz, jam-band party music, three-day-long festivals, stadium extravaganzas, extreme heavy metal in small rooms, to free shows at Amoeba, and in spite of my live music experience, I still knew that Sigur Rós would put on a show I had yet to experience, a show that would astound me, and it did. The Greek Theater in Griffith Park was an excellent venue for the occasion, with big screen TVs above, and to the left and right of the stage. If I recall correctly the band opened with svefn-g-englar and that distinct submarine-like sonar sound. Over and over it chimed, sending prickles down my neck as I anticipated what was in store. I knew that lead vocalist and guitar player Jón Þór Birgisson used a cello bow to elicit the sonic explosions from his guitar, but both seeing and hearing him do it live gave the music recieving part of my mind long moments of pause as I soaked in the awe.
Even the tracks the band played from Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust hit me hard, harder even than they do when I listen to them on the album. The delicate piano parts of “Inní mér syngur vitleysingur,” Birgisson’s fay crooning on “Við spilum endalaust” were amazing, and I even enjoyed the exuberance of “Gobbledigook” as clouds of confetti drifted with the breeze and blanketed everyone on the downwind side of the venue. In my review of Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust I mention my hope that they would have opened with “Gobbledigook” for the sake of easing into a hypothetical show, but at the Greek Theater show they played this song at the penultimate part of their set, yet the song worked great to wake me up, as the whole audience clapped their hands to its innocent, and uplifting beat. With my blood flowing I was better prepared for the more serious and emotional music they played for their encore.
Some of the highlights I enjoyed were the hypnotizing percussion of “Ný batterí,” the grand and intense playing of the xylophone intro of “Sæglópur” and the mezmerizing piano of “Hoppípolla.” It seemed to me that they sounded better than on their CDs, with some sections of songs being louder and more intense than how I recall their recorded versions. I guess that’s one pleasure of seeing the group live. To add to this intensity was the show’s nuances, like the creaking of Birgisson’s pump organ (which kinda sounded like something was about to break onstage).
My favorite part of the show was when they played their very last song, the crescendo-bending final song from ( ) called “Untitled 8” or “Popplagið.” As soon as I heard the mellow, building piano sounds and the tingling guitar I knew what song was coming, and the hair stood up on the back of my neck in anticipation. Birgisson’s subtle arpeggios weaved around the slow but steady beat that transmogrified into a rumbling syncopation, bringing us to that inevitable, oracular crescendo. The crescendo was deafening as the band exploded into guitar solos and reverb, while Birgisson let loose his screams and moans.
Finally seeing Sigur Rós play gave me a new taste in music. I found a new importance in ecstatic, searching, ruminating, and explosive sonic explorations. The guys weren’t your normal puffed up rock stars, but they had their own style, with feathers in their hair and glitter around their eyes; I think these aesthetic elements were the perfect addition to the music. But regardless of the band’s aesthetic or supposed self-importance, the reverberating drones coming from Birgisson’s bow-scraped guitar took me to another place; the music spoke to human emotion more than any show I have been to before. I felt joy as I left. Beautiful.
In case you’re curious, here’s the set list they played:
Við Spilum Endalaust
Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur
Here’s the final song, Popplagið…awesome.