by / August 13th, 2008 /

Mercury Rev / Sigur Rós @ Beatday, Copenhagen

Mercury Rev / Sigur Rós
Beatday 08 Festival, Copenhagen.
9/10 August -08

You know that Mercury Rev’s front man, Jonathan Donahue, has lost none of his graceful magnetism after their three-year sojourn when Ms. State turns to us after two minutes and declares: ‘well I’d ride him’. After 2005’s very dissappointing The Secret Migration one wondered how far the Rev had actually migrated from their defining album, Deserter’s Songs, and it’s magnificent tour peaking in two sold-out nights at Dublin’s Olympia. Well State is please to say that it’s not just Donahue’s outstanding sexuality that is back in effect. Mercury Rev are part of the international contingent at Copenhagen’s Beatday festival – an oddly wonderful event which sees a mainly Danish line-up play over two days on three stages: one a cosy indoor hall and the other two outdoor stages sitting side-by-side on no more than two acres of grass. It means there’s hardly any gap between bands over the two days with one stage being ready to go as soon as the other finishes. The setting is an area by the industrial port which has a permanent beach bar (Docken) and the aforementioned 2 acres of grass, plus it’s a 15 minute cycle from the city so it’s all very easy. The oddest sight at the festival is what must be well over an hour’s long queue for, wait for it.’¦ coffee. The bar is a no-queue affair and there is gorgeous food available too at very respectable prices. It’s hard to stress how small the site is. Tiny. And very intimate. And adding to that wonderful intimacy is the presence of the Rev who open with the new -Snowflake In A Hot World’ and it’s a powerful back-to-their-best mini-epic of a tune risings and peaking as Donahue conducts through the lines ‘it’s a long way’¦ down’. It seems familiar and comfortable. Then it’s -Holes’ and hearing this classic and the other new song that follows really points out that the band sure are still writing them, and certainly performing them, like they used to.

Cherrypicking their finest back catalogue we then get -Opus 40′ and an interesting, impassioned take on Talking Head’s -Once In A Lifetime’ and Jonathan is now losing himself and pops around in front of the mic, mildly posessed in the Scandinavian dusk. He gathers things back together and becomes Icarus flying amidst a swirling mass of smoke on-stage for the magestic -Dark Is Rising’. It’s pointed out that the moon has just risen above the large stack of transport containers to the right and as the band leave us we are mesmerised, and even forget that they haven’t played -Goddess On A Hiway’ but one swift encore sorts that out. Definitely back to glory days and with still two months to go to the release of both new albums we’re keeping a space on the -Albums Of The Year’ list anyhow.

The build-up to seeing Sigur Rós live has been great. We had the most beautiful music tour film ever made in last year’s Heima and some very small acoustic shows in promotion of it here in Copenhagen. Then there’s the build up to the new album, it’s release and, only last week, the release of the footage of their concert in New York’s MoMA (State was there – see the current issue for our four page feature). So here we are – at most about 4,000 people – not so far from The Little Mermaid, waiting to hear what Icelandic’s finest have in store for us. It’s a clear evening, lit up from the stage by five glowing globes which are eventually joined by Sigur Rós and their all-in-white brass and string section. In true Icelandic fashion there’s no fluffing about: it’s straight into -Svefn-g-englar’ and to see a band lift a crowd from a standing start and bring them to the point where they are yelling with pleasure when the drums come in after the falsetto-into-the-guitar-pickup break in the middle is quite something to behold. The live setting adds so much to this band, and it’s not every day you get to see them bracked by industrial containers to one side, the open sea to the other and across the inlet, a huge pile of scrap metal. Apart from the setting, this festival has easily the best sound State has ever heard. Every note clear and every lyric audible (note we said -audible’, we’re still working on our understanding of Hopelandic). It is a joyful reprieve from some of the muddy festival sound we’ve experienced this year.

New song time and the pounding bass intro of the album’s title track, ‘Við Spilum Endalaust’, brings the colour and pop of the new album to life. It’s so fucking uplifting your heart would nearly burst. The wonderful sight of the white-clad brass and strings running about on stage is a fine complement to the seriousness of the four-piece, as is the stream of bubbles floating out from the rigging. Then, as ever, a song more than the sum of it’s parts when played live, ‘Hoppípolla’ is pure gold – barely another song like it exists out there and the strings and brass are giving it the full lash. State met a friend in the men’s room just before the concert who got married to the sound of that song in Iceland a week before and he was no doubt exploding somewhere in the crowd at that moment.

It’s great to see a little more, well, cabaret from Sigur Rós these days. Jónsi’s fitted three quarter length jacket is furnished with what look like feathers and other strands which fly about when he draws the bow across his guitar, often frenetically, as the five globes pulse throughout the concert. They can still jump effortlessly between the upbeat, hand-clapping joy of the new album and the darker stuff as proven as the closing approaches. -Gobbledigook’ and it’s “lalalala lalalala lalalala” acoustic sound is infectious and you feel like a kid at the best birthday party ever when confetti engulfs the players and half the crowd. The stage is a rainbow of colour and light. Then the madness. Popular set closer -popplagið’ (the pop song) is sheer orchestrated madness as seen on Heima, and the reletively pastoral beginning of the song soon decend into echoey symphonic scream and every single thing that can be hit or lit on stage starts to spiral. At this stage, dear reader, your reporter leaves the planet. Putting words to the spectoral heaven-or-hell type climax is a waste. When this electrifies every corner of Laois at the Electric Picnic near the end of the month you’ll know EXACTLY what we’re talking about. And then we’re sent out to our bikes and home but nessun dorma, as the Italians say – none shall sleep.

Photos by Jakob Bekker-Hansen

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  • He’s quite the looker, that Jónsi. I want that coat. Nice review – the Picnic gig should be sweeeet.

  • They’re such an unbelievable band, I went to see them live on the 4th November and they were amazing. It’s a shame that the brass band weren’t there however, and due to one of the girls from amiina being pregnant, they weren’t there either. It didn’t make the gig bad at all, it was still so unbelievable I could’ve died, it would’ve just been the icing on the cake that’s all.

    I think I might have to commute down to a London show next time they’re touring to see them in all their glory in a huge hall.

  • Also, I concur… I would love that coat. I’m trying to explain it to my girlfriend that it’s such an awesome coat, and she’s not having any of it.

  • J

    I really enjoy the band, have for maybe 15 years? But the “I’d ride him” comment seems ironic, as I’d always thought at least some elements of the group were gay. Lovely music, but I also like the earlier twisted psychedelia, too (and miss it very much).