Photographs and Review by John Bentley
Along with Bjork, Sigur Rós have put the small country of Iceland (population 311,000) on the music map of the world. Like Bjork, Sigur Rós are highly original and it’s good to see them bringing their ethereal post-rock sounds back to Wolverhampton. I missed them when they were last here a few years ago, but tonight they return to the Civic Hall with a really sensational show.
The concert opens with a DJ set from Blanck Mass, performing from behind a thin curtain. The ambient-style sounds and lighting help to get us in the mood for the main act.
Sigur Rós have come a long way in the past decade. I saw them back in 2000 at a now defunct venue in Manchester called Planet K, supporting Godspeed You Black Emperor! The place was pretty grotty, a redundant shop I think. It was packed-out with punters and you couldn’t see much of the bands over all the heads. Sigur Rós were then fairly unknown and I suspect that no one at the gig really knew what to make of their strange music, with its semi-ambient sound and unintelligible high pitched vocals. Their optimistic, rather spiritual, sound contrasted interestingly with the thunderous apocalyptic vision of Godspeed.
In contrast, tonight’s Sigur Rós gig is a massive spectacular, with superb lighting, backdrops and sound. The stage is festooned with lights on stands, giving a fairytale atmosphere, and there are back-projections of grand Icelandic (I presume) landscapes. Think of Iceland and you think of vast panoramas, bare rocks, geysers, snow and ice and the Aurora Borealis lighting-up the night sky. That’s the feeling conveyed by tonight’s grand audio-visual spectacular.
Singer and guitarist Jónsi is central throughout the show, with his distinctive high voice and his guitar bowing. The band is accompanied by a host of musicians at the rear of the stage, playing brass, woodwind and stringed instruments. The sound is crystal clear so you can hear all the subtleties of the instruments and voices. The female vocal harmonies featured are outstanding.
The band play the first three songs from behind a translucent curtain, starting with a new song, ‘Yfirborð’. I’m not sure the curtain was really necessary, but they seem to get into gear more with the second number, ‘Í Gær’, with crashing guitar chords suddenly and dramatically shattering the peacefulness. They play a number of new songs tonight as well as a selection from past albums. We don’t get much from last year’s new album, ‘Valtari’, which it is probably true to say is not one of their best. It appears from the new songs played that the band are moving away from the ambient style of that album to a harder sound.
Particularly good to hear are the songs from probably their best album, 2005’s ‘Takk’, with the distinctive opening piano of ‘Hoppípolla’, being greeted with applause. This beautiful song has been much used on TV, where it seems to be called on whenever a point about the fragility or beauty of the environment has to be made.
The show ends dramatically on a darkened stage, with extended feedback from Jónsi’s guitar, marking the end of the dramatic ‘Popplagið’, one of their heaviest songs and one that moves spectacularly fast, unlike the glacial pace of much of their material. Definitely one of the evening’s highlights, which is probably why they saved it to the end. The large ensemble takes a well deserved bow to the audience and leaves the stage to tumultuous applause. The sounds produced tonight have been like no other band you will ever hear.
A great evening, but it’s a shame that there were such big restrictions on photographers at tonight’s show, as these have made it difficult to convey the true magnificence of the performance and stage set-up. Unfortunately photographers were restricted to shooting two songs from one spot at the side of the stage.
Sigur Ros setlist: Yfirborð; Í Gær; Ný Batterí; Vaka; Olsen Olsen; Brennisteinn; Glósóli; E-bow; Varúð; Hoppípolla; Með Blóðnasir; Sæglópur; Kveikur; Encore: Svefn-g-englar; Popplagið.