sigur ros have an ethereal quality to their music that can be incredible,and songs like sven-g-englar defy description,so i was a little disappointed not to be completely blown away by this gig...dont get me wrong,it was certainly a very good gig,but it didnt quite hold my attention fully throughout...the start was very good,and an excellent version of sven-g-englar,which had been blaring,for want of a better word,out of tower records for the preceding week,seemed to get the crowd in the mood for the gig,but somewhere in the middle things seemed slightly less than captivating...a guest icelandic singer brought the level back up a bit,and there was something haunting about the strange,almost eastern european sounding sing reverberating around this old church that was perhaps even more affecting that the sigur ros singer's voice...the last few songs realised the potential for moments of spine tingling awe that had been hinted at throughout the gig,but the problem that dogged the whole gig became appearent:it wasnt loud enough...sigur ros are a band that should completely envelop their audience with sound,but,maybe because of the size of the venue,that didnt really happen as much as it could have....a good performance overall,with some incredible moments,but next time a lot more volume would be appreciated...
The adverts for the concert had been impressive. The heading declared 'from Iceland, the first exceptional musical vision of the 21st century'. This meant that the curious as well as the devoted would have been coerced into buying a ticket (@ £16.50) for something that promised to be much more than music. The venue was the Temple Theatre, a converted church that is almost exclusively the domain of Dublin's dance fraternity. Inside, the theatre has a grand feel. There are chandeliers' hanging from it's very high ceiling. There is a seated balcony that three-quarter surrounds the main standing area. Downstairs in the crypt bar, the scene is serene with tall candles providing the only source of light. The stage in the Temple Theatre was surprisingly small but seemed laden down with every size of speaker. Thankfully Sigur Ros' thin frames didn't require much space so it hardly mattered, although when a 4-piece string section arrived things did seem a little cramped. The audience was divided into 3 camps. The curious were either entranced by the proceedings or alternatively made their way to the bar which became more crowded as the gig progressed. To the converted this gig was everything we could have hoped for. There were so many spine tingling moments that it was hard to take it all in. I witnessed several people with their eyes closed as if under a spell from the sound emanating from the stage. There is an uncomplicated feel to Sigur Ros' music. It is as if it had been dreamed up by a clear sighted musical genius aged 3. The band take all his innovative ideas and keep them central to the songs they eventually produce. The floating, beguiling voice controls the theme whilethe band layer in the instruments that are always lavish but never surplus to requirements. Sigur Ros were greeted on stage with an enthusiastic hunger. The obvious adulation is something I haven't witnessed since Be
lle & Sebastian's last gig in Dublin. New songs were greeted like old friends and at the end the ferocity of the appreciation was overwhelming. Strangers to Sigur Ros' sound must have been surprised at what they hear. They are unlike any music pop phenomena ever. The lighting was simplistic and the music was all that was required to leave the audience wide-eyed and spellbound. Nothing can prepare you for the scope of 'Sven-G-Englar'. Jonsi piles on the backdrop, that pling is etereal and of course the vocals are completely otherworldly. The live take on 'Sven-G-Englar' takes almost a quarter of an hour but even at this length the time passes way too quickly. It is subtle but possesses such a powerful belief, nothing on this earth can quite match it. As Jonsi lifted the guitar strings to his mouth he reached for all his worth for the strength to bleat with even more passion. As instrument and voice became one, I started to shiver uncontrollably. The Sigur Ros experience is truly one that you will never forget. 'Hyjartad Hamast' is instantly recognisable by the fog horns and the overriding sound of the beating drum surrounding the solemn but crystal clear vocals. It all builds to a crescendo that is uneven but contains a innate spirit that is deeply uplifting. Sigur Ros were joined on stage by a baritone from Iceland. At this point the gig took on a new direction as the older voice stood imperious above Sigur Ros' eclectic arrangements. It had all the hallmarks of a modern opera, it spat in the face of fashion and it inevitably was another triumph that on paper should have been doomed to failure. Sigur Ros are among the quietest (spoken word) band I have ever witnessed live. Jonsi spoke so rarely and in tones that were indecipherable. They fly in the face of convention as they tease as many sounds as is possible from their instruments. Jonsi uses a string bow to slide up and down the strings o
n his guitar. This creates that unique, wafting, effervescent backdrop. At another time Georg Holm on bass used a drumstick to address his instrument. This tapping motion which he continued to do for the duration of the song resembled a croning didjeredoo. The setlist was mostly made up of songs not contained on the 'Agaetis Byrjun' album. This didn't really take away from the gig although there was a little dip in the middle when a couple of unknown slow movers combined to create a lull. Then, as 3 members of the band stood around the korg noise bank, resplendent in trailing wires and flashing gages, there was a complete sense of bewilderment as the confusing soundscape made complete sense. As the bass tumbled from nowhere 'Vidrar Vel Til Loftarasa' was already in its full expanse. Jonsi, head shaved except for a small quiff, stood with bow in hand and emitted faraway vocals. The lights only lit up the front part of the stage, where the korg master Kjartan Sveinsson, hushed sublimely. As the bass began to drown out, a panel of violinists took over and the stage became a swinging rowboat of deep vocals, histrionic strings and ocean like swishes. It was hard not to well up because we were witnessing majesty. The finale was spectacular. As Sigur Ros threaded that Mogwai water, the string section thundered above the guitar ensemble and the whole concoction created a thunderous, but hugely melodic spectacle. As the volcano of sound subsided all that was left was a trailing tin whistle that scurried around frightened at being left alone. With perfect timing the band reappeared on stage for a one song encore that blew us away again. At this stage the audience was in various states of emotion. Some people were screaming, others clapped continually while others stood detached as if being hit by some shocking news. All the players appeared at the end and took a collective bow. It was an intensely proud moment and wh
ile we bayed for more, we were rewarded by another collective bow. At this point we began to realise that Sigur Ros might not be coming out again. Rather than being sad about the end of an incredible night we celebrated what is surely a new beginning for music. Sigur Ros are on the cusp of reinventing modern pop music. Their appeal will extend beyond the youth market and will endure for decades to come.
So quiet is the new loud then? Sure like black is the new black, sometimes the need of the British music press to create interest in new music amazes me. We have a constant shifting and creation of new scenes and pointless movements in order to give music journalists some meaning. But sometimes you come across bands that don’t fit into any so-called scene and shine for their uniqueness. Sigur Ros is one such band. Agaetis Byrjum was one of 2000’s most beautiful and genuinely breathtaking releases. A record that sounded like none other released that year. Where as most guitar based music was riding the wave of nu- metal or holding onto the ghost of Nirvana. With Agaetis Byrjum, Sigur Ros set their hearts on the stars and brought back one of the most beautiful ethereal releases of the new millennium. Not since the 1980’s heydays of 4AD had such soul touching music been released. The question however (for me anyway) could Sigur Ros produce the same magic live as they could on wax? My initial fears were blown away immediately as Sigur Ros took resident on the Empire’s stage. Like a dream the music started quietly, seeping into the mind. A gentle build up of guitars and drum and we were away. Closing my eyes to heighten the impact of the music and I was swept away into a pastoral world of beauty and bliss. Much to my amazement I could hear the sound of strings. Were Sigur Ros using samples or clever guitar tricks? No amongst the fog of the dry ice, lurking at the back of the stage was a String Quartet. An unexpected delight that added a further gorgeous textural level to Sigur Ros’s sound. The other stunning element of Sigur Ros’s music is the lead singer. Not only doe he play the guitar with a violin bow, he also has one of the most awe inspiring vocals I have heard. No male vocals have ever sounded so fragile but powerful at the same time. For means of reference Imagine Thom Yorke if he had been hand re
ared by angels rather than living in existential misery in Oxford. Where as dome vocalists faultier in the live arena, his vocals just seem more impressive and majestic. On Sven G-englar (the pinnacle of Sigur Ros’s music) his vocals soar in like birds of prey flying through the sky. Pulling a neat trick he also uses the acoustics of his guitar to carry his voice to the heavens. Whatever it is in the Icelandic environment that creates such stunning vocalists, needs to be preserved. Sven G-englar acts as a turning point for the performance as well, after being gently massaged by the beautiful sounds created by Sigur Ros, they then decide to try something more experimental. At what we get is the introduction of an Icelandic opera singer (well he sure look like one) who adds his powerful baritone voice to a trio of Icelandic folk songs as Sigur Ros create strange drones and pulses in the background. A strange unexpected occurrence than baffled rather than created great excitement. After this strange intermission Sigur Ros go back to platy tracks from Agaetis Byrjum and remind us why they are such a special band. The band are so controlled and precise in their playing while the String Quartet seem to gain in strength as the concert progresses. With such stunningly beautiful music being produced, there was no need to watch the stage, which was fine because Sigur Ros’s stage presence and performance is not the most exciting I have seen. Stationary and sedentary rather than involving and explosive. Then again who needs a band to leap around the stage, when their music moves you more than any physical force ever could. The other amazing thing that Sigur Ros manage to achieve was a state of suspended time, whilst some bands make half an hour seem like an eternity, Sigur Ros managed to make their two hour set float by. Why Sigur Ros succeed here when other bands fail is a probably because they manage to engage the mind rather than bl
udgeon it into submission. If anything 2 hours seemed to short and when Sigur Ros finished it was like being rudely awaken from a wonderful dream. The only downside for me on the evening was the attitude of a minority of the audience, who decided to talk through the quieter moments during Sigur Ros set. Listen here you selfish ignorant buggers, I have no wish to hear about you mundane lives or having a running commentary of the gig. I came to hear life affirming music not your inane chatter. Consider yourselves warned, because I’m making a list of who deserves to die and you’ve just made it baby. However these rude fools could not ruin what was for me a magical gig. For those who know Sigur Ros their live performance we helped to concrete your feelings about them. So if you get a chance go see them live and be enchanted. For those not in the know, do yourself a favour buy the wonderful Agaetis Byrjum album or download a few MP3’s from the various on-line sources and open your ears and mind to the beautiful world of Sigur Ros.