Live Review: Sigur Rós at Red Rocks

Photo: Scott Smith
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Sigur Rós Saturday, September 27, 2008 Red Rocks

If anyone nodded off during the first part of Sigur Rós’s set at Red Rocks this past Saturday night, I think they can safely be forgiven. The somnial sounds being churned out by the precious Icelandic quartet were lulling enough to send a meth-addled junkie headlong into a comatose-like slumber.

Looking around the venue just before I made my way to my seat midway into the second or third song, I couldn’t help but notice that the crowd, which was transfixed and seated pasively, looked like they were all simultaneously peaking after dosing Lunestra en masse. Marveling at the oddity of seeing such a sight, I turned to my buddy and asked him if he’d ever witnessed such a thing. Indeed he had.

At a John Tesh show.

Photo: Scott Smith

As outrageous as this is going to sound, that unlikely parallel almost makes sense. Despite the fact that the two acts couldn’t be further apart in terms of style or substance and even though things eventually picked up later on in the set, at times, especially early on, Sigur Rós’s performance felt more like a recital than a concert. Nonetheless, as reserved as the crowd was, by no means should their response be considered an indictment of Sigur Rós’s musicianship. No, this was reverence. In fact, walking in front of folks to get to my seat felt seriously invasive, like charging into the middle of an intimate wedding ceremony as the bride is in the midst of saying her vows and plopping down in the front row.

Photo: Scott Smith

The stark presentation, on the other hand, seemed a little at odds with the notable pretense that has overshadowed the band from the beginning. From its painfully awkward, seemingly disinterested interviews to the fact that many of its songs are sung in what essentially amounts to gibberish, you’d be right to expect far more pomp and circumstance from a band like Sigur Rós. All the same, the outfit performed in the midst of a minimalistic set design that comprised little more than a handful of outsized, Ikea-like bulbous lamps forming a backdrop for the musicians and their stacks of instruments.

Photo: Scott Smith

The absence of superficial theatricality, however, actually turned out to bolster the set, as it allowed us all to focus on truly absorbing the wondrous, cascading waves of ethereality being created by frontman Jónsi þór Birgisson’s guitar lines as he relentless sawed away with a bow while manipulating the swelling bursts of tone with a volume pedal. Likewise, it offered plenty of space to fully appreciate the sweeping dynamism of the arrangements, particularly the deliberate yet commanding timekeeping of Ágúst Ævar Gunnarsson, before ultimately basking in the incandescence of Birgisson’s impossibly fey falsetto.

Throughout the set as Birgisson’s voice ascended heavenward, I could’ve swore that I saw angels hovering wraithlike overhead in braided twists of smoke. As it turns out, this was just the lingering exhaust of an overactive fog machine that frequently exhaled on keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson. Birgisson was equally bewitching in between songs, even if he kept his stage patter to a minimum. When he did speak, which wasn't often, he received a lively response from the audience. “Can you sing with us this song?” he timidly beckoned. “You’re not going to know the words, but you can just follow after me.” The crowd happily obliged, resulting in an impromptu choir of several thousand tunefully crooning along with Birgisson’s whooo-oooh-oooo-hooo's (see midway through second clip below around the 4:30 mark or so). Talk about an invigorating spectacle.

All in all, I'd have to say that Sigur Rós delivered the third most stirring listening experience I’ve ever had at Red Rocks. This is saying a lot. The other two? Arcade Fire last fall, and Radiohead in 2001, before that. Can’t sleep on that now, can you?

-- Dave Herrera


01 - heysátan 02 - fljótavík 03 - all alright 04 - njósnavélin 05 - ný batterí 06 - við spilum endalaust 07 - hoppípolla 08 - með blóðnasir 09 - inní mér syngur vitleysingur 10 - festival 11 - dauðalagið 12 - sæglópur 13 - hafsól 14 - gobbledigook

-------Encore --------------

15 - illgresi 16 - popplagið

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