You expect an air of intrigue and mysticism from a Sigur Rós show, but a curtain? That’s not what we expected at the O2, the band commencing the show behind a drape that completely surrounds the stage. Initially, it’s used as a video screen showing pre-recorded artistic imagery, as a canvas onto which the shadows of the performing band are cast, and at other times used to display a projected grainy live video feed of the concert.
Impressive though it is, there’s a massive cheer when it drops after the third song and the show continues with various dramatic imagery displayed on a huge panoramic screen behind the stage. Dimly lit light bulbs on stands pulse in time to the music and coloured spotlights illuminate the three permanent members of Sigur Ros, plus at least six other musicians – including a choir of female vocalists and violinists. Keyboards, glockenspiel, bowed guitar and flute are just some of the host of instruments employed to create the eerie and atmospheric dream-like soundtrack.
Between songs, the band allow time for admirable applause but there is very little in the way of banter or interaction with the audience. There aren’t many opportunities for the audience to participate either, given that a lot of their lyrics are in Vonlenska (or Hopelandic); a non-literal language which uses the melodic and rhythmic elements of singing without grammar, meaning or even distinct words. Those lyrics not sung in Vonlenska are mostly in their native Icelandic, making it practically impossible for all but the most devoted fans to sing along.
Frontman “Jónsi” Birgisson, flaunts his vocal abilities with impressively sustained falsetto notes which are unfortunately are over-amplified somewhat by the PA system. Aside from these moments and a few others when the bass is overpowering, the sound quality in the auditorium is excellent. Like tantric sex without climax, the music pleasures the audience with a constant sense of anticipation and expectation of a crescendo that is never quite reached. The intensity of each track builds slowly and steadily, but just when it feels like the song is about to break into something cathartic, it abruptly ends prematurely.
While there is massive applause between tracks, the audience seem less engaged during the songs themselves. There is lots of chatting and many seen faced away from the stage, which is a shame considering the elaborate and impressive visual presentation which has been specifically tailored to each track. It seems like a significant portion of the crowd are just enjoying the show as expensive background music for a social gathering. Despite a rather niche musical genre, Sigur Rós have managed to attract a significant crowd to this large venue, and there isn’t a single criticism to be heard from the attendees. Whatever it is they are singing about must be persuasive enough to keep their fans coming back for more.
Photo: Olga Kuzmenko