On the face of it, Sigur Ros look like a traditional band: guitar, vocals, keyboards, bass and drums. However, sometimes it feels as though the members of the band came from another dimension and never truly understood how this ‘band’ thing works. So the guitarist uses a violin bow to play, he sings in a high falsetto in an alien language that is indecipherable; the bass player uses an Ebow or plays xylophone; the drummer never hits a snare on the third beat, always a quarter note early; their songs have no discernible structure; and you can’t sing along to any of it. The one thing they do have in common with your standard rock bands is the issues with band members; so this tour loses Orri (after accusations made in 2018), but gains Kjarri, who had previously left the band, founding full time members Jonsi and Goggi are joined this time by touring drummer Ólafur Björn Ólafsson.
As with their last tour there is no support and Sigur Ros play two sets with an intermission. I commented in my 2017 review (http://www.brumlive.com/sigur-ros-manchester-apollo-16-september-2017/) that their shows are like a classical performance or an art installation: the only interaction with the audience is through the music played and the band bowing and applauding the audience at the end. It is light years away from the standard rock band cliches.
The setlist reads like a hits package but especially highlights the classic “( )” album (the 20th anniversary edition due out this year) with a broad selection from their back catalogue. The opening songs are a gentle introduction to Sigur Ros for the uninitiated with the Eno-esque repeating keyboard phrases, loops and drones of the first three tracks from “( )”. It is hypnotic and a huge development from the ambient music of the 1970’s, or the post modern sound of Reich’s ‘Six Pianos’. Sigur Ros show their influences willingly, but add to them immeasurably.
The use of lighting and set design cannot be underestimated in creating an immersive experience. The cues for lighting changes are not to highlight band members, but to underscore moments in the music. In fact, the band for the most part are in silhouette or lit only by the fact there are dozens of different lights all around them. The members of the band seem to say ‘Don’t look at us; look and listen to what’s going on around us’ – and it is magical.
There is a repeated note in “Svefn-g-englar” played on the keyboard by Kjarri that is synced with the lights on short poles, which run the length and breadth of the stage, and every time this note sounds throughout the song, these lights turn on and off in sequence from where his synth stands, right across to stage right. It is a simple idea but beautifully effective when the rest of the stage lighting is muted.
The projections on the back wall of the stage are a perfect addition to the soundscapes and choreographed lighting, showing film of nature and people, juxtaposed with more computer generated images and swirls. There is a lot going on, and at times the music is so powerful my brain hits overload and I have to shut my eyes to relieve some of my senses. I have read later that some members of the audience were reduced to tears by the experience and at times it really is that overwhelming.
I notice part way through the second set that the wires that run from the floor to the ceiling of the stage have changed. During set 1, the wires were twisted whereas now they are straight (reminding me of the Beatles film for ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ where they use piano wires tied to branches of a tree). I did not notice when this changed and feel like I have been hypnotised – did anyone else there notice when this changed?
There is the usual pause within “Festival” and the Nottingham audience cannot contain themselves and cheer and applaud in the silence before the song restarts. I remember in Manchester, there was not a sound during these moments, but tonight the tension is unbearable, and although I hope it will last, it is inevitable that it cannot.
The final songs are a glorious crescendo, with a wall of beautiful noise pouring out over the enraptured audience. As the final notes of “Popplagið” ring out and Sigur Ros leave the stage, the Nottingham crowd are on their feet immediately – the standing ovation is not your usual call for an encore, as we know there will not be one, it is a uncontrolled outpouring of love and appreciation. The band do return to the stage to applaud the Nottingham crowd and take their final bows; their faces mirroring the thousands of beaming faces in the venue. As always with Sigur Ros, there is a real mutual respect.
You have to love Sigur Ros; you just have to. In March they surprise everyone by announcing out of the blue, their first tour in five years as well as news of Kjartan Sveinsson rejoining the band. The tour hints at a new album, but strangely the tour is not supporting its release as it is not yet finished. Only Sigur Ros would go on a promotional tour for an unfinished album. They hint at new music being played on the tour, but that ends up being one song (“Gold 2”). The thing is though Sigur Ros don’t need a reason or financial incentive to tour and Sigur Ros fans know that any live performance by the band is unmissable and tonight shows this undeniably.
I have to admit, I do not play Sigur Ros albums often at home, as the music is not background music – it is an absolute focal point, and sometimes I do not have time. Therefore when I see them live it is about taking time out, like recharging my soul. And it really feels like that – you feel alive when they are playing and it is addictive. I know now, Sigur Ros is for life, not just for.. well Christmas.
Sigur Ros Set 1:
Untitled #1 – Vaka
Untitled #2 – Fyrsta
Untitled #3 – Samskeyti
Untitled #7 – Dauðalagið
Untitled #9 – Smáskifa
Sigur Ros Set 2:
Untitled #6 – E-Bow
Untitled #8 – Popplagið
Review: Alan Neilson
Photographs: Marc Osborne