Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Sigur Rós Brings Tour to Patriot Center

DCist:
Sigur Rós has gained a reputation for leaving a lot to the imagination. Their 2002 release is titled simply ( ), and that's a longer title than they gave to any of the eight songs on that record. Even on the albums where singer/guitarist Jonsi does not sing in a made-up gibberish-type language, he opts for his native Icelandic, a language that few if any American listeners speak. As such, the intentions of the band are certainly open to interpretation, but the Sunday show at the Patriot Center was altogether moving—regardless of which emotional nerve they touched.

Their live performance initially set another barrier between band and audience: the physical kind. For the first two songs, a barely transparent curtain fell around the stage, playing host to projections of some extreme close-ups of what appeared to be nerve endings. Opener Tim Hecker had also played behind the veil, but had done so in almost total darkness. While Hecker used the darkness as an ally to his macabre yet soothing drone (performed to a silenced venue), Sigur Rós used the curtain to play visual tricks on the audience. During "Ny Batteri," a spotlight cast a larger-than-life shadow of Jonsi over the crowd. The visual of an oversized figure with ropes swaying from his arms coupled with the distorted sound of cello bow meeting guitar appeared menacing and inhuman.

The menace continued even after the band dramatically dropped the curtain and we could see all of the instruments (organ, xylophone, drum machine, string section, horn section, cymbals) that created the band's sweeping orchestral sounds. The first untitled track from ( ) sounds suspiciously like the sort of music that war biopics use in the scenes where everybody dies, and as if to further that effect, the band showed projections on a screen behind them of shrouded figures in gas masks and turned up the red stage lights.

Yet, for all the theatricality, the visual elements of the show remained suggestions rather than fleshed-out scenes. There were lots of nature shots, like extreme close-ups of water or panoramic slow motion of snow falling over gray mountains. I found most of the set ran between eerie and utterly heartbreaking, as Jonsi's pleading falsetto complemented the piano's dirges and the string section's squeals. However, during tracks like their most recognizable "Hoppipolla" from Takk..., the beautiful rising melody, display of warm lightbulbs onstage and projections of falling sparks inspired the head-nodding audience to erupt with applause at both its start and its conclusion.

That said, if there was any argument that Sigur Rós was guiding the crowd to one particular sentiment, it could have been made during the encore. The segment of the show was solely the final untitled track from ( ), an eleven-minute opus that starts dark and gets decidedly more frantic as every member of the band starts to play faster. As the song sped up, the projections behind them changed rapidly and frenetically. The sensory overload finally came to its peak at the end of the song and the audience reacted appropriately to the sonic explosion that had just happened before them.

The band would have clearly done themselves and the audience a disservice to continue after that point, so they did the only logical move and returned to the stage for a final bow. The eleven performers half-hugged and patted each other on the back during that closing moment. The self-congratulating was well deserved—they had not only made the audience think, but had made them feel.


More information:
» Patriot Center Setlist
» Sigur Rós' "Brennisteinn" Video

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