It's nothing short of astonishing that an ambient Icelandic band who don't sing in English or write songs in a verse-chorus structure are filling arenas across the US. Some of the next acts to play this same arena are Shinedown, The Lumineers, Styx and the Killers. Sigur Ros are a band that exist only in shadows, walls of feedback and high-pitched, stretched-out vowel sounds. There has never been another Sigur Ros, and there will never be another Sigur Ros.
It's like they're not even playing the same instruments. They are playing the same instruments -- there's a classic structure of guitar, keys, bass, and piano -- but the noise they're making, the sheer forceful goddamn sound that pours out of that stage into every tiny nook of the venue is something entirely different. It's ethereal, it's barely even of this world, and it beguiles you to just stop whatever you're thinking and listen and blot out every single other part of your brain until all you can see is a bright white light and all you can hear is an avalanche over a pounding drumbeat.
It starts with a curtain across the front of the stage, Jonsi writ large in shadows, bent over, playing his guitar with a bow, until during the first crescendo, the first warm, beautiful, intense crescendo, the curtain falls, the lights come up and really they're just average-sized humans, just humans holding the instruments you might see anywhere else. But there's this sound, and you can't pick out any of the instruments in the mix, you can't see who's doing what, and you can't understand where it's coming from. The whole concert is quiet, beautiful, fragile noises building into crescendos that could move buildings, crescendos that could shatter glass. You sit there transfixed throughout, unable to move, totally forgetting that you're at a concert, that there are other people, that anything's happening apart from the reverberations you're feeling in your ears.
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The music is anything you want it to be. It's so other-worldly, so entirely uncategorizable, that it could be a warm summer's day, it could be someone adrift on an iceberg in a snowstorm, it could be the soundtrack to a night with your friends or a lonely day spent indoors in the rain. It could be heartbreak, it could be love, it could be anything at all. What it absolutely is, what Sigur Ros categorically do at a concert, is stir the senses, and send you entirely to another place.
Sometimes you're brought out of it - during the frankly astonishing crescendo of "Festival" Jonsi tries to do the rockstar thing of stepping to each side of the stage and playing his guitar nearer the audience while smiling. It's something you've seen at every single rock gig you've ever been to, and only when you see it here are you reminded that you're watching something else entirely, something that's a transformative art performance suddenly turn into a rock concert. Jonsi looks entirely uncomfortable doing it, but I can't imagine he wants to stand there for the entire night with all the pent-up energy he's pouring into the music either. These are only fleeting moments, and otherwise he remains bent double over his guitar with a bow, or breathing unearthly and strikingly resplendent noises into the microphone as if to emphasize the fact that no could possibly do what he's doing.
Through all of last night's Sigur Ros show, I was utterly mesmerized. I realized at some point, after the final encore of "Popplagio", that I'd had my jaw open for the entire song and that I was close to tears. I'm not even close to kidding. I wish I was. This was so utterly unlike anything else I've ever seen, so uplifting, so transformative, so perfect, that I feel actually emotionally effected. I drove home in a stupor, unable to process that last encore. I still don't know what I'm going to write. What in God's name am I going to write?