Sigur Rós at 1STBANK Center, 4/06/13
Sigur Rós could have ended the night on any of the expected high points from its various albums, but it opted to go out with "Popplagið," the finale of its 2002 album ( ). That song could almost be a show in itself at close to fifteen minutes in length, starting with a melodic, drifty, meditative passage shot through with those electrifying, distorted, bowed guitar lines to give the whole a heightened emotional impact.
As the song built to a peaceful place in the last third of tune, a subtle, inexorable, powerful, climax reached a fever pitch of intensity and burst into a seething, whirling vortex of sound that was reflected on the screen as coherent images broke down into chaotic transmissions from a dying telecommunications satellite, a cousin to Hal 9000 throwing out its final thoughts in abstract images before winking out of existence. After the room seemed to calm down a little, the group came out on stage and bowed, clearly aware it had just done something special.
Earlier in the evening at the start of Sigur Rós's set, a gauze screen surrounded the stage as a kind of forward projection screen and the band was enveloped in a blue green light as it got started with "Yfirborð" from its forthcoming album Kveikur. The screen stayed in place for "Ný Batterí," and tendrils of white threads reached toward each other as that song progressed, and at the point in the song, where the ethereal turns to the intense, the curtain dropped to fully reveal the band, where it stayed down for the rest of the set.
With few pauses, the band played songs from every album from Agætis Byrjun on through to the new record. There were no lulls and low points and the projections were varied and inspired throughout the show with abstract imagery and mountain ranges, clouds, people in action, figures wearing gas masks, analogs of electrical signals and at one point, live projection of the band itself.
With eleven people on the stage at any given moment, it was impressive to see how this band brought its elements together to make the most out of simplicity when layered together. During songs with the three percussionists, the sense of texture and rhythm and mood created by the percussion alone was incredibly moving. Of course Jón "Jónsi" Þór Birgisson sang in his usual part human/part creature of faerie voice, both ethereal and coming from some deep place in the earth.
The sense of space created by the band is obvious on its recordings, but live, you are taken in to a different headspace because the music has such immediate presence in a way most of us cannot recreate at home. It was a bit like being able to comprehend some secret language of weather patterns as abstracted into stirring, symphonic songs. And the songs, while clearly well-composed, had that feeling of organic structures rather than something purely of the intellect.
One of the standout moments came with the performance of "Brennisteinn," a song from the forthcoming Kveikur. It sounded distinctly different from the rest of the music, even to the point of having a kind of inorganic, industrial flavor to the way the sounds came together. The urgency of its pace and the distorted bass swells felt like the band was forging a new era for itself in its songwriting. For a band that has taken a bit of time out as a live performing unit, for this show, Sigur Rós put in a fine performance that demonstrated the vitality of its music across the breadth of its career.
Continue reading for a complete setlist and critic's notebook.
The show opened with Oneohtrix Point Never. Just Daniel Lopatin and his bank of gear generating layers of sound as though creating a three dimensional sonic experience with some sounds present and distinct in the mix while others distant and/or non-distinct, giving the impression of a space with boundaries and finite characteristics rather than just the free-flowing nature of sound.
A lot of people probably thought he was playing just one track but in fact, Lopatin did begin and end pieces, including what sounded like a cut or two from his excellent 2011 album Replica. The fizzy, melancholic synths matched with piano and modulated white noise and swirling melodic tones to create a sound that evoked a dark, meditative Art of Noise gone late night jazz. Lopatin's use of tones and textures were musical in their orientation while not losing the ambient quality of his songs. Like headliners Sigur Rós, Lopatin showed himself a master of making the perfect mix of the organic and the otherworldly.
Personal Bias: In 2000, Agætis Byrjun wasn't the easiest album to find without paying a ridiculous amount of money. By chance one of the people working under me at a call center was from Sweden and went on a trip home and got me a copy of that album. I've been a fan since and haven't been able to catch the band since 2002 when it toured in support of ( ). This show was better.
Random Detail: I ran into Scott Uhl of Glass Delirium and Luke Thinnes of sleepdial at the show.
1STBANK Center - 4/6/13
["Happy BIrthday" in Icelandic to bassist Georg Hólm]
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