Sigur Ros @ Manchester Apollo, 16 September 2017

Such is the interest and respect Birmingham Live has for a band like Sigur Ros, we are willing to break free of our immediate borders and travel north.  The band has not graced our city since 2005; the closest they came on the last tour in 2013, was Wolverhampton.  I don’t know what we did but the Midlands often miss out on Sigur Ros tours.  We are used to this though, as many artists seem to forget about the second city when they are setting out their tour schedules.  Thankfully though the band’s label XL are more than happy for Birmingham Live to attend off our usual turf, and frankly, I would crawl over gravel on my knees to see these guys play.

Sigur Ros are not like your usual rock band.  They are still made up of bass, drums, guitar and voice; they still have incredible light shows; and they still make a big noise.  However, their brand of rock comes from an ambient world, where songs build slowly over drones and whining guitars soaked in shimmer delays and reverbs.  And above everything is the voice of Jonsi who manages to sound like a heavenly choir.  His falsetto takes centre stage in all their songs and is bursting with emotion; he moves you from joy to heartbreak and onto something not far from bliss.

Tonight’s show is advertised as having no support but two sets from Sigur Ros with a twenty minute break.  There is a wide selection of songs from their career including new tracks ‘Nidur’ and ‘Varda’ which close the first set.  The sound is crystal clear and absolutely massive, it is hard to believe that the three band members can produce music so complex and full.  The first hour seems to pass in mere moments; it’s like a dream.. a beautiful dream.  The audience treats the show like a classical performance or an art installation; there is a noticeable space at the end of each song before the rapturous applause – it is a case of letting every note finish naturally before disturbing the moment.  I have never seen a rock audience so respectful.

The light show is a blend of blinding neon, abstract projections and geometric patterns.  There are two projection screens; the one hanging directly behind the band and then the back wall of the stage area itself.  There are further straight strobes in between the instruments, creating a depth of field effect.  There are moments when it feels like you are in the final scenes of “2001 – A Space Odyssey”, flying through space, and black holes, through alternate universes.  At the end of the first part of the night’s proceedings, I had to tweet:  ‘First set done.  Mind blown.’  My head is whirling and I cannot write down a single other thing.  When I reflect later, if I had to choose, the highlight for me is ‘Daudalagid’ from “( )”, as I watch Georg and Orri play the bass and drum line for this impossibly slow track with its uncountable time signature and offbeat accents that I could not keep up with.  Tell me it is not just me that can’t count the beats in this song!

Set two opens with ‘Ovedur’ – their one off release from last year.  The band is now behind the projection screen and the lighting display kicks off onto another level.  When the snare sample hits it sounds like a laser blast and the neon lights reflect that by seemingly shooting laser beams from the back into the audience.  They are so bright you can close your eyes and still see them.

I had thought that set one could not be improved upon, but there is a noticeable shift here.  The audience applaud when ‘Saeglopur’ begins, and again when the bass line of ‘ny Batteri’ starts.  I don’t think this is to do with the crowd warming up, as we have been in a state of controlled excitement since the show began, just that it is so easy to lose yourself in this overwhelming atmosphere.

During the pause within ‘Festival’, the audience are totally silent.  On the album the pause between the  two sections is no more than 2 or 3 seconds, but here it is over 10 seconds long, and the room is entirely still and quiet.  My heart is in my mouth as I am not sure whether it is a planned or unplanned silence, but no one wants to break this spell and still there is nothing…  then Jonsi noticeably smiles as Georg returns to the stage, picks up his bass and Orri nods.. it’s alright the song starts again – nobody noticed.  It almost felt like a test.. who is going to be the first to make a noise?  Who is going to be the one who spoils it for everyone else?  Not here, not tonight.  The entire packed venue collectively holds its breath.

The set is made up of 15 songs and the final two ‘Kveikur’ and ‘Poppalagid’ crank up the excitement even further as the decibels increase and the lights blaze.  Jonsi’s bowing of his guitar becomes more frenetic and the pounding bass and drums mix with the mesmerising light show, until what can only be described as euphoria fills the room.  The standing ovations at the end of the show are utterly heartfelt and the three musicians come back on stage to feel the appreciation.  They bow humbly and shake hands with those in the front row.  The ovation continues after they leave the stage until they return once more to applaud us; no encore, no ‘Thank you Manchester’, no fake pleasantries.  Just a perfect exit, like the perfect entrance and the perfect performance.  Jonsi probably said three words all night, and some would level criticism at a band for doing this, however, certain things do not need to be expressed in words.  You can see it on the faces of the band and on their audience.. mutual love and respect.

There is something so refreshing about seeing a band where there are no pretensions, no egos, no guitar solos, no standing on the floor monitors, no holding out the microphone for the audience to sing (as if anyone could sing Jonsi’s parts), no verses, no singalong choruses… no bullshit.  Just beautiful musicianship, exquisite attention to detail, original thinking and an absolute desire to deliver the most immersive musical experience ever.  Sigur Ros manage this effortlessly because they love music and they love their fans.  It is an honour to have witnessed this.

After the show I faced a two hour journey back down the M6.  I expected to be lethargic and wiped out after the gig, but far from it – I was wired and never felt so alive.  That feeling continued for the days after.

I have a band bucket list.  Sigur Ros have been on it for years.  I can’t tell you how incredible it feels to tick this band off that list.  If you ever get the chance, do not miss this band play live, there is no one better.

Reviewer: Alan Neilson

Photographer: Marc Osborne

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