Show review: Sigur Rós at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

Photo by Taylor Smith

Sigur Rós is more than a band, it is a memory palace. When the Icelandic group’s ethereal shoegaze music emerged in the U.S. in the early 2000s, it came as slow, beautiful and potentially confusing as a rolling fog. Frontman Jónsi Birgisson sings in either Icelandic or his invented, phonetic language, Hopelandic. The music doesn’t have many hooks, per se, mainly just heavenly clouds of soft, heavily reverbed sound. The ambiguity has built a fervent fan base for Sigur Rós by creating gorgeous spaces into which listeners can place their own meanings.

On Monday, Sigur Rós performed a two-act set at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. That much emotional anticipation can set a high bar for live performance. Adding to the challenge, Sigur Rós is touring without a new album and without long-time member and keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson, responsible for the band’s epic orchestral and string arrangements.

The evening started out slow with a new song, “Á.” The song has a throbbing, looped drum track, which Jónsi soared over with his lofty, swooping vocals. The familiar tone allowed the audience to take in the stage scaffolding: metal framing dividing the stage and a huge, wide-gauge mesh curtain backdrop. It supported the lighting and became its own visual effect by partitioning the stage and raggedly framing the psychedelic video projections.

The band really came alive during moments of punk rage. In the first set, that came in Jonsi’s signature guitar-played-with-cello-bow, him flourishing it forward at climaxes like a cane slipping out from underneath an old man.

The second set had the real gems. “Ný Batterí” from 1999’s Ágætis Byrjun has a mid-song breakdown where the delicate vocals of Jonsi collude with thrashing, distorted drums and guitar. That evening, when the moment came, it seemed to release an enormous amount of tension — an arena-sized primal scream — allowing a peek into the original magic of the group.

In the same way cheap flights have recently reduced the otherness of Iceland a bit, Sigur Rós has also become a bit more earthly. Revisiting memories from years ago can sometimes feel sheepish, like reading an old journal. Despite the cynicism of time, there are still moments when the band’s music glimpses perfect transcendence. Not too shabby for three guys playing rock ‘n’ roll.

SHARE

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.