The only thing you need to know about me is that my true love in life is Sigur Rós. Icelandic ambient post-rock isn’t for everyone, but they’re perfect for me. This is why, last autumn, I was sat at my computer desperately refreshing as the tickets for their London gigs were released. I booked a ticket and my stomach flipped as I knew I’d be watching my favourite band of all time. And yesterday, after months of anticipation, the time came. I’m not going to say too much, partly because I don’t want to ruin it and partly because words can’t express how I feel about last night, but if you’re interested, here is the setlist. All I can do is describe everything from my unapologetically subjective stance and pray that this is enough to make someone book a ticket.
I stood agape and self conscious as they emerged on stage concealed behind a mesh screen upon which aurora-esque lights were projected. A green glow descended over the Academy, and everyone was perfectly still. An ethereal entrance gave way to the carnival janglings of the perfect Í Gær, which was gorgeously creepy and quiet until it all crashed in on us in a giant, threatening roar… only to subside to Jónsi’s haunting vocals.
Vaka is my second favourite song in the world, and hearing it live sent me hurtling from aching heartbreak to falling in love forty times a second. For a song so pared down and dirge-like, it’s like the nicest punch in the stomach you could ever receive. You want that over and over again, you want the deep, driving pain and the feeling of insignificant. It was a whisper in a musical masterpiece of a show that wouldn’t look out of place at a metal festival at times.
I never thought I’d say this, but there were two occasions during this gig I laughed at Sigur Rós. Well, with, really. The fourth song was the bizarre new track Brennisteinn, complete with its throbbing Eurotrance edge and more than a passing nod to Rammstein. I’m not sure that anybody could quite comprehend what was happening, and I noticed a lot of smiles exchanged between crowd members… and then the furious strobe lights emerged and we were torn from the Eurovision into some sinister secret dive. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard Sigur Rós sound so cold, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t weirdly like it.
It’s hard to express quite how striking it was to hear Saeglopur, my favourite song to infinity and beyond, live. The rearing of the colt, the galloping, being thrown from its back into the sea and drowning, painlessly and peacefully. Soundtrack to every BBC nature documentary ever Hoppipolla exploded into rapturous applause, followed swiftly by Með Blóðnasir, which is based on the reversal of Hoppipolla’s piano riff.
Not a single second of this show was careless or lazy. It was a true sensory experience on an entirely phenomenological level, with lighting and graphics executed with faultless precision. Bulbs flickered in the quieter moments, smoke hovered over the crowd distorting the light in serene waves of sea foam and silhouettes of the band appeared on the walls from the piercing backlights. The band themselves said only two words in the entire show: ‘Thank you’, uttered around halfway through, before oozing back into their sumptuous strains. There was no ‘working the crowd’ and not a flicker of self-obsession; it was all for the audience and all very authentic.
There really are no words that will do this show justice. If you have the means to do so, I urge you to see this show. Even if you’ve not heard a single song of theirs, it doesn’t matter, because this will change your perception of what it means to put on a performance. I felt like I was at an art installation rather than a gig, and I mean this as the highest form of praise I can muster, which doesn’t represent even a tenth of how I feel about this band, their music and the fact I’ve seen it and heard it in person. This was the thing I wanted to do before I died and I have and it’s the first time I’ve ever loved the sadness and I’ve felt comforted by the fact that everyone else probably felt as hopeless as I did.
All I will say is that the encore is immaculate. In particular, Popplagið. The bass. Oh god, the bass. The swelling. The ebb and the ebb and the ebb and the spewing volcano and the flow. The descent into chaos. The cataclysm. The cawing and baying and the wall of noise and it’s comforting and frightening and dangerous and serrated all at once. This is the most flawless, perfect anything ever. The first time I heard them (Njosnavelin in Vanilla Sky), Sigur Rós lifted me out of the darkness and into the Northern Lights, and this show wash you seamlessly into the inviting aurora.
Just go. Please. Even if you never listen to another word I say, just go see them. It’s not just a promo for their next album. It’s a show for the fans. You won’t be able to stop yourself from falling into breathless, giddy love with the most divine music in the universe. And if you’re really not convinced…
Think about it, maybe?
All photo credit goes to Chris Guerrero and his dearly beloved iPhone