For the uninitiated, Sigur Rós may seem a little alienating. They’re from Iceland, but often sing in a made-up language. They play conventional instruments, but they make airy, floating sounds unfamiliar to the ears. Their music is brash and bold, but in interviews they’re quiet and shy. Their song titles have mostly unpronounceable names and it’s all but impossible for the average fan to keep the tunes straight. Yet for all their idiosyncrasies this strange, beautiful quartet is one of the best acts around.
Playing live at Boston’s seaside Bank of America Pavilion, they were opened by Parachutes, a group so derivative of Sigur Rós that it was a good while before I realized it wasn’t Sigur themselves up there (in my defense, I was also far away). Also from Iceland, their songs are supposedly in English, but the vocals are so spacey you’d never know it. A big group featuring a blaring trombone, their similarity to the main act overshadowed their admitted talent. A poor man’s Sigur Rós, they’d be better on their own.
Because the real thing is tough to beat. I’d seen Sigur Rós at Bonnaroo this year (read my review here), but this incarnation was stripped-down to just the four. No string section and, though I kept expecting them to make a surprise appearance, no brass either. The foursome did a great job covering the gaps, but the music of angels loses a bit without strings, the wall of sound effects a little harder to pull off with only four performers.
Nevertheless, Jónsi Birgisson led the crew through cuts spanning most of their discs, all ethereal, majestic, and all those other words everyone always uses to describe them. His falsetto soared about the songs, wordless and worldless while his bowed, reverb guitar swirled and soaked into the music, creating a cacophony of beauty that made up for lack of strings. Playing like one person, the other three ebbed and flowed as they switched instruments, so together you forget the individuals up there as you are drawn into the sounds they create together. The songs are differentiable when one gets familiar with them, but the differences are negligible next to the mood they create together. Sigur Rós is the rare breed where you could attend a concert, not recognize one song, and have an experience just as good as someone who could sing along.
That’s not to say the tunes blend together or sound the same, however. The concert was marked by sonic peaks and valleys, from Georg Hólm using a drumstick on his bass for “Hafsól” to most of Parachutes coming out with bass drums to give “Gobbledigook” the gallup it needed, accompanied by flashing lights and shooting confetti. Then just when you thought you had them figured out, the band came out with acoustic guitars to play a quiet, folky “Illgresi” for the second time ever, fragile and pure.
All these words mean little to describe a sound the unfamiliar have to experience to understand. Hopefully the recording below will help.
Við Spilum Endalaust
Viðrar Vel Til Loftárása
Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur