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Sigur Rós (live)

Mind Your Head
Royal Festival Hall, London
1 October 2002

After a blazing performance by Coil, (which was, incidentally, their best yet which I’ve seen: completely charged with the energy one craves from Coil) I was not optimistic about seeing Sigur Ros, despite being a devoted lover of Agaetis Byrjun. Another example of a headliner being shown up by their “special guests”? Just goes to show how wonderful it is when expectations are low and surprise is at hand, for Sigur Rós delivered one of the most beautiful performances I have ever seen.

There were eight of them in total, none of them looking as if they could have breached the 25 year old mark. I could not tell you a thing about their set list, as I had never heard most of the songs they played and couldn’t understand them if I knew the titles. Singing in what might be their native Icelandic, might have been his own made up tongue “Hopelandish”, Jón Thór Birgisson absolutely shocked me with a splendor of vocal noise the likes of which I have never witnessed. Ranging high and middle, loud and clear as a crystal goblet Jón Thór put me in mind of days gone when there was an appreciation of voice so reverent boys gave up all to become castrato chanteurs. Was this what it was like too hear the eunuchs for God singing their balls off literally? And will this modern day boy be able to perform like this always?

I believe that the only things perfect about Sigur Rós is the voice of Birgisson, and the gorgeous percussion by yet another angelicly inspired young boy. Their passions for their crafts shone through massive body language so there was no mistaking their enthusiasm. Jón Thór was even able to drag a bow to and fro across his own guitar to add something barely audible but erily suited to his own voice. Everything else was only nearly perfect. The eight youths manipulated and switched theirselves around a myriad of instruments: keyboards, guitars, drums, flutes, picolos, synths, violins, cellos and a lovely piano. There were of course inevitable flaws, mostly in the use of recorded extras. Before seeing the show, I had the impression that the vocals were more shared between multiple singers. It was a bit sloppy the fading in and out of just the one boy’s taped accompaniment of himself. I suppose it was a necessary evil, to maintain the layered effect of that ghostly voice, but it seems to me it could have all been pulled off a bit more discreetly.

The show was visually enhanced by a video series of home-movie-like images of children playing; all distorted and unfocused, hyper-coloured and chromed. Happy children with just a hint of taint enough to be a tiny bit disturbing. I think the band could have benefited from a bit better staging and wardrobe to really accentuate the bizare children routine instead of just appearing dowdy and blasé. The engineers at the Festival Hall do deserve a bit of kudos for fantastic lighting which worked perfectly with the evocotive music pouring forth and the sound quality for the whole night was exemplerary. I must admit to a bit of annoyance at an audience member to my rear left who felt so inspired she just had to sing along in her own off key sort of way, but then who could blame her really? Sigur Rós has that kind of haunting sound that does course through one’s nerve endings and it all feels beautifully organic as the sound seems to fuse with the blood flow. If I had not restrained myself to better hear Jón Thór, I might have joined her.

There were a lot of people attending who disagreed with me utterly. The hard core of the Coil fanbase and others less given to emotional attatchment to music seemed nonplussed and retired to the bars. I think for the technical listeners, there were probably obvious mistakes or disappointments to Sigur Rós’ performance, although to me, it just seemed like on purpose demonstrations of dissonance. Well, at any rate, despite the groanings of those in the audience more interested in what is avant and ultra-outré for this season, and the questionable longevity of a band like Sigur Rós, whose magic seems perhaps to be tied in with fleeting youth, tonights performance for Mind Your Head was inspiring, mysterious and spectacular.

-Lilly Novak-

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