It could be said that Sigur Rós is ideally suited to this location. A stage on the banks of the tidal River Avon facing an impressive classical crescent building. The stage is set beneath a turret and weathervane, and on the river beyond, boats are moored and redundant cranes reach upwards. The clouds have cleared, leaving a blue sky, in which the band has seemingly attracted several hundred herring gulls which wheel and swoop above the crowd.
It's been a good week for Sigur Rós fans ―a twenty four hour slow TV event of a trip around Iceland's Route One, soundtracked by the band to celebrate the summer solstice, a brand new song and video surfaced called ‘Óveður’ and the world tour rumbles into the UK, including a much anticipated show at Glastonbury Festival.
There is an odd feeling about this tour. There is no new album to promote, so you could be forgiven for thinking this is some kind of ‘greatest hits’ deal. The only new material tonight is ‘Óveður,’ which is a muted start delivered from the back of the stage. It’s just the three of them, no string section, no brass. It’s not the most auspicious of starts.
‘Starálfur’ has been dusted off for this stripped back tour, but arrives too early and is almost missed by the restless crowd, some of whom have hardly even noticed the band’s arrival on stage. Even the seagulls can be heard squawking over the precious and fragile ‘Starálfur.
Nothing really changes until the middle section of a slightly reworked ‘Sæglópur,’ in which the band comes to the front of the stage in an explosion of light and sound. Someone found the volume dial and turned it up. It’s a welcome change of pace and grabs the attention of the crowd who momentarily stop chatting and munching burgers. ‘Glosoli’ follows with a rich familiarity and accompanied by eerie shots of Iceland.
Festival was designed for such occasions and fairly bounces along. ‘Yfirborð’ makes an appearance with its undercurrent gaping alien-like noises. It’s not until ‘Hafsól’ with its vibrating refrain that the band start to relax. It's taken a while, but I swear I see a smile from Georg. Jónsi plays it as intensively as ever, often bent double, and even ruining a bow completely as the song reaches crescendo.
A brief but wonderful encore ensues. It is the traditional closer, ‘Popplagið,’ and it is completely perfect. Jónsi delivers most his vocals with his forehead pressed against the mic, as if his thoughts could somehow be transmitted out to the crowd. In a way, they do. Everyone is transfixed with Jónsi, but actually Orri and Georg are responsible for this driving, pulsing staple of the set. By the time ‘Popplagið’ implodes into feedback and the lights flicker out, the members of Sigur Rós have done their work here. The boys return for a celebratory bow and then they are gone.
Afterwards I find that a seagull has left me a little reminder of the concert on the back of my jacket. It’s not the only one. Happily, my ears are still ringing with the sounds of ‘Popplagið.’
Edward Hancox - edhancox(at)live.co.uk
Edward Hancox lives in in the United Kingdom with his wife and two small, noisy children but spends as much time as he can in Iceland. Music—especially contemporary Icelandic music—is his other passion. He writes about both subjects for Iceland Review and in his debut book, Iceland, Defrosted. He does not consider himself an expert on anything.