Words by Eloise Sims
Here’s the thing – I am quite possibly the worst person to be objectively reviewing Sigur Rós’ recent gig at the Spark Arena last Friday.
For one thing, I’ve been a dedicated fan of the prog-rockers since I was about ten years old. This was a love fuelled mainly by my father, who used to blast songs like Ágaetis Byrjun alongside David Bowie’s Heroes in the car to get me suitably motivated for my Saturday morning football games.
Given the intensity of Sigur Rós’ more gloomy songs, it was no wonder that I would often run onto the pitch in a slight existential daze.
For those unfamiliar with the Icelandic trio, strands of their music appear in pretty much every awe-inspiring televisual display you can imagine – from David Attenborough’s famous Planet Earth, to the end of the thriller 127 Hours. The group even made a cameo in Game Of Thrones before Ed Sheeran ruined it for everyone.
“A Sigur Rós concert is like no other experience on Earth,” a friend told me before I went to the gig. “You’ll think you’ve dreamt the entire thing afterwards.”
While a little hyperbolic, I’m inclined to agree with her.
The band walked solemnly onto the stage without an opening act at 8:30 – choosing instead to divide their performance into two acts. They launched into Á with little fanfare, drummer Orri Dyrason laying an atmospheric rhythm down.
Adjusting to the pace, frontman Jònsi Birgisson began his haunting falsetto; inciting delighted screams from bearded hipsters that reminded me of attending my first One Direction concert at age fifteen.
The show continued, with songs such as Ekki Múkk (“Moving Art”) and Fljótavík seeing Birgisson don a Gibson guitar. Famously, he plays this guitar exclusively with a cello bow – providing his own soundtrack, while somehow managing to sing at an insanely high pitch at the same time.
It certainly worked for the audience, many of whom could be seen with their eyes tightly closed, swaying in pleasure.
The gloomy first half concluded with the main lights shutting off around the stage, making the band appear as if they were hanging in space. A crowd in the Spark Arena has never been so silent as when the band launched into the eerie Varda.
While Sigur Ròs promised New Zealand “something no one has ever seen before” in a recent interview, the gig didn’t really kick off until the second half. As the concertgoers filed back into the arena after the intermission, dark clouds seemed to appear overhead. The thunderous Óvedur burst into life, with white lights shooting out with every drumbeat as imitation lightning bolts.
From there, the band went from strength to strength. The songs bled into one another with stunning visual effects – Ny Batterí, for instance, featuring a magnificent time-lapse display of synapses firing in turquoise. Festival’s golden strings ended with Birgisson managing to hold an impossibly high note for seemingly forever, his entire body taut with exertion.
“He’s the most beautiful man in the world,” I muttered, overcome, to a friend who had the decency to look embarrassed on my behalf.
The show ended with the lingering Popplagio, as colorful images from a broken VCR flittered across the screen behind the band. The song built to a deafening climax, with guitarist Georg Hólm playing frantically to accompany Birgisson’s bird-like chorus. The crowd broke into wild applause as soon as it ended.
While calls for an encore were easy to hear, there could be no repeating of such a performance. The band, exhausted and perspiring, gathered themselves on stage to bow beneath a white sign that merely said Takk (“thank you”). And that was it.
“What a bloody night.” I muttered, hoarsely. I’d managed to lose my voice without uttering a single word during the performance. Despite how high my expectations had been for this concert, Sigur Rós had exceeded them in every possible way.