Published August 13, 2012
My partner Zoë and I travelled to Iceland in the late spring and as appears to be the case with most visitors, we immediately fell in love with the country and its charming populace. The breathtaking landscapes and unspoiled scenery that dazzled us at every turn of our trip around the ring road had us wishing we could stay longer, or perhaps never leave. We soon found ourselves back home in Toronto resuming our daily routines, and wondering if a return to our new favourite country was ever to be. As luck would have it, we had a chance to enjoy the next best thing this summer.
Formed in Reykjavík nearly twenty years ago, Sigur Rós has blossomed into a world class act and certainly a national treasure. We heard their music played on our Icelandair flight and at many shops and restaurants during our vacation. Having been casual fans for years, Zoë and I naturally ramped up our interest in the band as we toured its spectacular homeland. Sigur Rós provided an apt soundtrack for our adventure, the cathartic nature of the songs propelling us through endless tableaus of inconceivable beauty. Upon returning to Canada, we were thrilled to hear that the band would in turn be paying us a visit.
Only two tracks from ‘Valtari’
Echo Beach, an outdoor venue on Toronto’s waterfront, proved to be a good fit. Once close enough to the stage to block out the mass of corporate branding that dominates much of the 5.000 capacity space, we found ourselves in perfect position to take in the exploits of Jónsi and his accomplices. The expectedly restrained audience was rapt from note one, as the only two offerings from 2012’s ‘Valtari’ LP led off the evening.
“Ekki múkk” seamlessly bridged the ambient sounds that had been playing pre-show, methodically creeping through the speakers with quiet confidence. Three players apiece comprised the string and horn sections that supported the band, with each trio adding subtle texture to “Varúð.” Like a refreshing burst of Nordic ocean air, Sigur Rós breezed into the performance. Muted horn swells followed Jónsi’s bowed guitar introduction of “Ný batterí,” which provided the first spark of the set thanks to Orri Páll’s precise drum hits and some big sci-fi synths.
Travelling without moving
Memories of our trip began flooding back as the night unfolded. An enchanting start to “Í Gær” evoked the windy drive down to Seyðisfjördur, but soon became as dark as the Lofthellir lava cave. Zoë and I slow- danced to the endearingly off-tune “Vaka” as we had while overlooking Jökulsárlón, and Jónsi executed his keyboard and vocals parts with gusto on the ten year-old tune. “Sæglópur” followed, delighting onlookers with its catchy piano riff then making great use of vibraphones as it built hypnotically into textbook post-rock fury. “The very few stylistic contemporaries of Sigur Rós could only dream of putting on this grand a spectacle,” I thought to myself.
Jónsi shone once again on the nautical “Svefn-g-englar,” broad bow strokes and soaring falsetto drawing the crowd into a trance before the bridge burst through to signal a rousing finale. The proud march of “Hoppípolla” gave way to more flashbacks: the panoramic view from atop Skógafoss, the reveal of sleepy Siglufjörður after a series of taut tunnels. Our recollections were painted all the more vividly by the cinematic quality of the music. “Festival” gave Orri the spotlight as he attacked its eruptive climax with battle-like focus. Georg Hólm tapped out the bass notes of “Hafsól” with a stick, an impressive feat that laid the groundwork for psychedelic fluttery before drummer Orri was once again shot out of a cannon for the peak.
Overwhelming, in a good way
We could have kept listening all night. The encore combo of “Dauðalagið” and “Popplagið” made plain the duality the band expertly wields. While the former suggested a lullaby-laden farewell, the latter jolted us into a chaotic stupor with its prolonged madness. Sigur Rós was at once mysterious, unspeakably gorgeous and overwhelming in the most perfect of ways.
As the band said goodnight, Zoë and I embraced, feeling lucky to be alive and to have experienced all that we have in relation to our wonderful journey. Some places slip easily from one’s conscience after departing their shores, and some remain stuck in the mind uncontrollably. We now have the spirit of Iceland running through our veins, and we couldn’t be happier. We shall return.
Read more from Dan at his blog: www.societyvernacular.com.