Monday, May 15th, 2006
Time heals all. My two relatively minor regrets from my trip to Europe last Fall were missing shows by The National and Sigur Ros. Well lo and behold, eight months later both acts have returned to town – The National in March and Sigur Ros on Saturday night.
This would be my third time seeing Sigur Ros at Massey Hall, though the first in three and a half years. I missed their legendary show at the Palais Royale in April 2001 but can still hold their show from September of that year, for which I was in the front row, as one of the most amazing musical experiences I’ve ever beheld. The second time in October 2002 was less impactful, but as I commented at the time – “how many times can a band change your life?” Well while Saturday night’s show wasn’t life-changing, it was very much life-affirming – and I mean that in a completely non-schlocky sense.
My night got off to a bit of a rocky start as I realized after settling into my seat that my camera battery was still happily charging at home. Thankfully I only live one subway stop from the venue so I made a mad dash home to retrieve it – unfortunately, this meant missing most of Amina’s set. I only caught about two songs total but what I did hear was pretty and tinkly like a fairy tale jewelery box. This wouldn’t be my only opportunity to see them perform though, as they were an integral part of Sigur Ros’ band as well.
I’m no good with song names on the best of days so I won’t even bother with Sigur Ros’ foreign and cryptic titles (witness the set list – thanks, Erik). Sufficed to say that the richly orchestrated, Amina-enchanced tracks from Takk somehow made the () material sound almost raw and stripped down – certainly not adjectives one would normally use to describe Sigur Ros. The contrast in emotional content between the material Agaetis Byrjun, () and Takk is far more evident in the live setting – it’s remarkable that albums as laboured over, meticulously recorded and arranged as theirs are, still pale in comparison to the power of the live performance. Not meant as a slight against the albums, but as a point of reference in trying to describe how amazing they are on stage.
The wonder isn’t just aural, either. The show opened and closed with the performers hidden by a sheer white curtain and backlit to create eerie silhouettes the height of the stage, but for the rest of the almost two hours, it was just eight slight young Icelanders against a massive backdrop of projections and lighting effects. The coreography of the visuals with music, though subtle, was amazingly precise – especially during “Smaskifa” off of the Sigur 1/Sigur 9-era single where the silhouettes of birds on a wire, seemingly coming and going at random, all flew away the instant the last note was struck. And if the projections weren’t your style, you could always just close your eyes and let your imagination do what it would with the soundtrack. The closing number, as I believe it was four years ago, was “The Pop Song” from (), and it was as epic, terrifying and tremendous as I could have hoped.
Yeah, using this sort of language to describe the show might seem a little over the top, but the band doesn’t take any half-measures in what they do, it’s only fair to do likewise. I can’t think of another act today that is capable of channeling such pure, universal emotionalism through music. Whether singing in Icelandic or Hopelandish, I’m actually thankful I don’t understand any of it – that way it means exactly whatever I want it to. And the whole show, top to bottom, sound, sight, everything – was just beautiful. And the only thing better than second row seats? Second row seats with no one sitting in the first row directly in front of you. Hence the absence of heads in les photos. I’m glad I made the dash home for the battery, the lighting made for some dramatic shots. To whomever paid for those seats but couldn’t be bothered to show up, I thank you and you missed a hell of a night.
Here’s the closing song of () and of the night – long, but if you haven’t heard it before you really should.
New records coming our way this Summer – a long time coming, The Hidden Cameras’ new one Awoo will be in stores August 15. A couple of veteran UK frontmen will be releasing their first solo efforts – Manic Street Preacher James Dean Bradfield will release The Great Western on July 24 in the UK and head Radiohead Thom Yorke has an album called The Eraser also due out July 11 – Billboard has details about that. And Luna’s The Very Best Of will be in stores on June 20, the same day as the Tell Me Do Miss Me documentary DVD. And as a footnote, congratulations to Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips who have a) completed work on their second album and b) gotten married.
A most promising show will be going down at the El Mocambo on June 27 with DeVotchKa and Norfolk & Western. Both have just released new EPs – Curse Your Little Heart for the former, A Gilded Age for the latter. Also, The M’s have been tapped as support for the second half of Wilco’s Summer tour, including the July 7 Massey Hall show.
Billboard talks to Amy Millan about making Honey From The Tombs, out May 30. She reveals there’ll be touring to support in the Fall before heading back into the studio to work on the new Stars record, hopefully for a Spring ’07 release. She’s playing a special album release show June 10 at the Mod Club, Fembots supporting.
Last night was the final episode of The West Wing, and I am sad. I’ve watched the show faithfully since its inception seven seasons ago, and is – I believe – the longest relationship I’ve ever had with a television program. Despite a shaky fifth season in the wake of creator Aaron Sorkin’s departure, the series finished incredibly strongly and actually left me wanting them to carry on with the Santos administration but am probably glad they’re not. Always leave them wanting more, right? The final episode had many nice touches, not least of which was Martin Sheen’s brief scene with real-life daughter Renee (“Tell your mother I’ll see her soon”) – that was sweet. But man, especially after watching the repeat of the pilot before the final episode? I miss John Spencer. Read some farewells to the series from The San Jose Mercury News, The Chicago Sun-Times, the BBC and The Washington Post. Yeah, it may have been just a make-believe White House, but compared to what we’ve got today… What was that about Karl Rove?
np – The M’s / Future Women