Reykjavík, Iceland – an exotic, mysterious, and beautiful Nordic town surrounded by sand, lava fields, mountains and glaciers. It is actually foretelling that such an enigmatic part of the world is made famous by one of the most inexplicably talented and deliciously strange music-makers, Sigur Rós. So when it was first announced that these Icelandic geniuses were gracing our sunny shores, I almost popped a gasket. As most of my frivolous dreams, I never thought I’d be able to experience the Sigur Rós phenomenon for myself. Needless to say, I pinned high expectations on Jonsi and the gang.
I remember hearing Ágætis byrjun for the first time in the early 2000s and thinking to myself that this is what beauty must feel like. The cello-bowed guitarwork, the intricate orchestration and the ethereal falsetto were all peculiarly stunning, culled gently from an island far, far away. The allure of the band was in the novelty of these aspects, especially singing in Volenksa – a non-literal unintelligible form of language. 2005’s Takk and 2007’s Heima/Heiv also captured the essence of a unique sonic experience that only Sigur Rós can carry off. Because a large portion of their songs are made up of their magic formula of a quiet start, powerful build-up and magnificent release, visual effects are key. For me, a lot of the mystery and the goosebump-worthy moments that are quintessential of a Sigur Ros album were whittled away between Heima and Valtari but I was hoping that this live experience would help reignite my ‘A-ha’ moment that I got listening to Agaetis Byrjun.
Let’s face it – Sigur Ros’ music is best heard over the course of an album and viscerally rewarding when accompanied by the picturesque nature of their homeland. That was why I was so surprised at the choice of venue. I thought that the Esplanade would have been a better choice to listen closely to the complexities of this cinematic and auditory experience – and I was right. Right from the get go, the harmonious introduction of Í Gær was interrupted by a group of young revelers who seemed to be there for the wrong reasons. They were in a drunken stupor, talking over the music and making fun of Jonsi’s falsetto. Thankfully, they moved away and then did I really get to notice the set-up of the stage. The long, white tent on the left blocked everyone from seeing the full-stage set-up. If I hadn’t moved closer, I would not have seen the baby grand piano or the other half of the string and horn section. Hence, I already did not like the way the stage was set up. I kept thinking how different it would be should the concert have been at the Esplanade instead.
Having said that, Sigur Ros have proven that they can make music pretty and unpredictable – and they sure focused on that. On Vaka and Svefn – g- elar, Jonsi and his anonymous conjurers cooed away beautifully. The audience rejoiced in excitement after the first note of each song, remained in semi-quiet contemplation in the mellow portions and raised their arms wildly during the releases. Admittedly, I was irritatingly distracted, as a lot of the concert-goers were, it seemed. The crowd perked up during Seaglopur, which is one of their most recognizable ‘made-for-inspiring-moment-in-film’ (Life of Pi) tracks. It was almost scarily en pointe – musical verbatim from their EP of the same name. The peak of the concert (minus the encore) was definitely their most loved hit, Hopipolla. The crowd came to life, many singing along and my heart sang in the beauty of the moment.
As the clouds gathered and the thunderstorm loomed, so did the Heavens speak to us, this change in weather coincided with their grandiose encore. The drizzle accompanied the quieter moments of Ekki Mukk and Popplagio; and as the thunderstorm struck along with the brassy fanfare and cymbal-bashing crescendo of Popplagio, the crowd roared with approval and awe as did Jonsi and the gang, as seen by their gaping mouths and passionate playing. I have to say that these two songs were probably the best moments of the hour and a half set.
Although the repertoire was strong, considering they pulled from a lot of their old albums and nary was a mistake heard, something was still lacking for me – and I’m pretty sure it was the absence of interaction. As most live sets go, it is so crucial to say something. Anything. Unfortunately, because of they didn’t interact, I did not feel the way I thought I would. Yes it was good, even great in some moments, but the distracting crowd, wrong venue and lack of interaction did not make it a mind-blowingly memorable concert. I guess I’ll stick to my corner of the room, listening to them and wondering what living in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge must feel like.
By Alyson Lopez