With their world tour beginning in Portugal next week, we preview the new Sigur Rós show by looking back to their stunning gig at last year’s Airwaves Festival…
It’s the last night of the festival and 30 minutes before Sigur Rós’ first home town concert in four years we realise that there aren’t enough taxis in the city to bring everyone out to the Arena stadium. There’s a panic as we throw people into cars with strangers who happen to stop for directions. We needn’t have worried though because the first hour of this to-be-epic gig was drone noises from the unlit band inside a huge cube surrounding the stage. We had time to think on the first Airwaves we heard about – an airplane hangar outside the city in 2000 headlined by Iceland’s now-biggest band, amongst others. It was a mere dream, sitting in Dublin back then, to make the festival and see Sigur Rós play on home turf. We even priced the trip back then, but it was impossible.
This night, we bury that hatchet though the only thing being buried now is enthusiasm as this intro drones on. Had the tickets simply said the gig started an hour later it would have been fine but all primed from 7pm, this was wearing out its welcome somewhat. Relief overcame excitement as the lights dip at 8pm and the music slowly climbs up into ‘I Gaer’. The box covering the entire stage lights up with interior projections on its surface and the band are finally lit up within. The venue is almost like a square itself, which also means that you’re never too far down the back. As gigs of this size go, 10,000 or so, it’s a great room. In the pre-amble to their approaching tour, the band said they wanted to totally upgrade the live show as last summer’s was geared to festivals and the constraints therein so tonight is the only preview concert of the 2013’s Valtari tour.
It’s clear there’s no dwelling on Valtari, their departure-less album of 2012, and when the curtain falls it begins a run of classics from ( ) and Agaetis Byrjun. As the box containing the band disappears a vast unseen panoramic screen fires to life above the band, reaching out past the wings. Widescreen Sigur Rós, it curves to give the entire room an amazing view of the most beautifully considered visuals we’ve ever seen behind a band.
The set continues through a straightforward greatest hits, and the visuals never put too much busyness in front of you to distract from the band. One accompanying video is so beautiful it just has to be seen in context, figures rising on a mountain scape with flashlights popping slowly on and off. Director Tony Kaye once noted that music is 51% of tv ads, well Sigur Rós know that the visuals are at least 51% of live music and not a fancy set that look like a Lloyd-Webber production. Lights and imagery that give the music space and a shift in context perhaps. If you are moved by ‘Hoppípolla’ you may be able to imagine that in this context it’s a blade through the soul, and as it turns into its mirror song ‘Með Blóðnasir’ you really have to be ok with letting tears fall.
As this refrain keeps us company through the break Valtari’s ‘Ekki Múkk’ eases us back in as it’s calming slow-floating boat image crosses the vast screen. As the boat flickers out, it’s clear something different is about to happen. The screen goes dark and lasers fan out over the band and crowd. This is heavy, dark and new. It’s ‘Brennisteinn’ and a possible indication of a new turn. It feels MASSIVE and after the almost invisibility of Valtari in the back catalogue, this sounds like a big and welcome shift in the new material. Buzzing bass at the lowest end, Jonsi’s voice is low and it punches hard with some crying brass and the pace of a dirge march.
Seeing us out with the classic build-to-epic closer ‘Untitled 8’, the screens shut down, the band take a bow and the spectacular is complete. A 13 year wait, as the band grew and grew, to the closing night of Airwaves. A panoramic event that could easily be the end of gigs. Sigur Rós, inexplicably big now, returning to home soil at the peak of their powers, with another show pushing the limits of a live concert and a performance with so much care and thought that it moves, entertains, exalts way more than you’d even have hoped.
Photos by Jakob Bekker-Hansen