Sigur Rós @ Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier

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At this point in their career, Sigur Rós are essentially a music genre of their own.  Nobody sounded like them before they appeared on the scene way back in 1994, and nobody has sounded like them since.  Why exactly are they so popular?  It’s certainly not on account of their lyrical content, given that their songs are sung in either Icelandic or “Vonlenska,” a fictional language that is, by their own admission, “a form of gibberish vocals that fits to the music.”  Surely not many people packed into a sold-out Place Des Arts tonight speak either of those.  If it’s not the lyrics, then it must be the music or the live show?  After a mind-blowing 2 sets spanning almost 2½ hours, it’s pretty clear that it’s both.

The enormity of the show becomes apparent right off the bat, and the stage is bathed in red light right off the bat as Vaka rolls into life, at one point becoming so bright that I feel my retinas burning out.  A few songs later on Dauðalagið, it’s now a searing green light that’s blinding me.  Perhaps it’s linked to an expression that pops up in each song (and also in epic set closer Popplagið), that sounds like “yu-sigh-ohh”?  It’s impossible to know.  Either way, it’s an assault on the senses that only gets heavier by the time Ný batterí adds strobe lights to the mix which run from the floor of the stage to the rafters of the ceiling; it’s absolutely cataclysmic.  Enormous video projections at the back of the stage beef up the songs even more, but curiously, those that feature in the quieter moments are every bit as powerful; the backdrop of birds taking off and landing on a perch for the duration of Smáskifa is almost hypnotic from start to finish.

The band, and in particular frontman Jónsi, are not purely reliant on lights and video projections to create such epic soundscapes, though.  Jónsi prefers playing his guitar with a violin bow more than a plectrum and does so to grandiose effect on various occasions.  On Samskeyti, he follows it up by singing directly into the guitar pickups, turning his angelic falsetto into a banshee wail.  On Svefn-g-englar, it contrasts immaculately with the delicate piano intro that comes immediately before it, while on Glósóli, it’s a precursor to exploding drums and another devastating barrage of strobes.  In each case, it’s a perfect complement, and a weapon the Jónsi wields masterfully.

As enormous as the Place Des Arts stage setup is, the band often huddle together as if playing in a club for some of the quieter moments of the set, such as for Samskeyti, Fljótavík, and Ekki múkk, though on the latter, the band soon disperse back to their regular spots to detonate the song into a veritable post-rock anthem a la Explosions In The Sky.  One girl in the third row can no longer contain herself at this point, fearlessly rising to her feet and dancing in a sea of seated people.  She is up and again a few songs later on Popplagið, though her arms are flailing about 100 times faster than the song actually is, which leads one to believe that alcoholic forces may have been at work by that point!

Interaction between band and crowd is fairly minimal during the first set; the only indication we have from Jónsi that we even exist comes during the stop-start outro of Dauðalagið.  After each of the first 3 stops, the crowd cheers, thinking the song is over, and by the time the song restarts a fourth time, Jónsi flashes a grin at having to interrupt the applause yet again.  By the second set, though, he seems much more relaxed, and on Festival, is prowling the front of the stage from left to right like a bona fide rockstar frontman to rile up the clapping crowd, who are all on their feet by now.  After Kveikur bathes the stage in bright red light once more, Jónsi addresses the crowd with the words “Thank you for coming out tonight, you’ve been a really amazing audience,“ before the show closes out with Popplagið.  The stage screens go berserk with random colour as if malfunctioning and Jónsi revels in the rockstar role once more as he kicks over his microphone stand while shredding the guitar outro, before leaving for the good with the rest of the band.

It’s difficult to put into words, this music that was probably never meant to be put into words.  After the band leaves the stage and the room empties, the word “Takk” projects onto the stage screen, the Icelandic word for “Thanks.”  

Perhaps that’s the only word you really need after a show as memorable and spectacular as this.

Setlist

Set 1

  1. Vaka
  2. Fyrsta
  3. Samskeyti
  4. Svefn-g-englar
  5. Rafmagnið búið
  6. Ný batterí
  7. Gold 2
  8. Fljótavík
  9. Heysátan
  10. Dauðalagið
  11. Smáskifa

Set 2

  1. Glósóli
  2. E-Bow
  3. Ekki múkk
  4. Sæglópur
  5. Gong
  6. Andvari
  7. Gold 4
  8. Festival
  9. Kveikur
  10. Popplagið

Review – Simon Williams
Photos – Kieron Yates

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