Two and a half months after the release of Takk, and with their album making a range of best of 2005 lists, Sigur Rós returned to play the largest concert in Iceland to feature Icelandic talent since Björk’s Debut release concert in 1994.
The immediate surprise for the show was how poorly the local artistic community was represented, and how much English was spoken in the crowd. And those Icelanders that were part of the 5000 people in attendance were not the typical rock audience, nor were they on typical behaviour. Everywhere you went you heard the words “fyrirgefðu” and “afsakið”—people asking to be excused as they brushed by. Twice, people passing rubbed my back as though we were in therapy together—as opposed to the standard heel stomp and ass grab that I’d grown used to at other large venue shows in Iceland. The overall feeling was of collective appreciation and politeness—taken to nauseating excess, as when a women near me announced to her companion “This is just perfect, I don’t need to see. My ears are fine,” to explain why she wouldn’t move over one foot, to see beyond the tallest man in the crowd. But if other concerts feature drinking and sex to excess, perhaps this kind of polite to excess can be the new rock and roll lifestyle.
When Amina came on to open, I was sure the crowd would burst into tears—mainly because they seemed like they were prone to that kind of behaviour, and Amina were sufficiently cute.
Playing the kind of delicate interloping melodies that your typical romantic comedy director would love to end his film on—resolution music, or start the credits music—Amina presented the mood that I expected from the evening. They were by no means disappointing, but it was hard to connect. When a saw was played on stage, you thought it was interesting, but you clapped as much to be done with the sound as to show your enthusiasm.
The crowd mustered polite applause, smiled at each other, wiped the tear or two away, and waited for Sigur Rós.
While Amina were what I expected, Sigur Rós were anything but. Reading the Sigur Rós website, (www.sigur-ros.co.uk), you can stay up-to-date on what’s being done on the tour—most reports were that Sigur Rós were playing mostly pre-Takk material.
From the start of their Reykjavík show, Sigur Rós devoted themselves to a full-out Takk release party. The result was astounding. Takk is a milestone for Sigur Rós. The recording demonstrates new musical and emotional range for the band. Masterfully produced, it has so much energy that it feels almost joyful—especially set against their previous album.
When Sigur Rós broke into Glósóli, there was an immediate exuberance—the band were clearly at the top of their form, and an enormous stage, a well-used scrim, a light show, and an eight-piece back-up band helped. Sigur Rós do the biggest sound in the world thing quite well. Just as impressive, as they meandered through another seven songs from Takk and a few reinterpretations of earlier numbers, was how genuine and understated the band managed to be.
True, a marching band did take the stage during Lest, and true Jónsi still plays a wailing electric guitar with a bow, but drummer Órri eased up on the driving beats, and the majority of the focus was on Jónsi as a frontman vocalist. Adding to the drama was the fact that Jónsi’s voice had lost most of the strength it had before the tour—he still had his range, but he wasn’t as overpowering as he can be on the recordings. The image of Jónsi himself, seemingly thinner and slightly more haggard than he was before two and a half months of touring, sometimes standing in front of the mic without any instrument at all, also enhanced the feeling of overall humility.
The overall effect was stunning: a local band from one of the smallest countries in the world have created an enormously powerful album. Their recent live show demonstrated that they have created songs that allow for a full range of connection, and that they have the ability and interest to fully embody these songs. It was enough to make a man put up with weeping, huggy people, which is to say it was a concert of a lifetime.
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