Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008
Photo by Frank Yang
In the two years since Sigur Ros last paid us a visit – May 2006, if you were wondering – they’ve discovered pop. Or at least, that’s what the talking points around their latest record Med sud I eyrum vid spilum endalaust would have you believe. This is not actually true.
If there was a watershed moment in the Icelandic quartet’s career, it would have been 2005’s Takk, which saw the band making a conscious effort to try a more direct form of songwriting, at least relative to their first records. Compared to everyone else, they still sounded like an herd of space manatees in heat. Med Sud is a progression of that aesthetic shift. Yes, “Gobbledigook” is probably the most accessible thing they’ve ever written but there’s still far more sprawl on the record than conciseness. And that’s okay, because there’s plenty of pop bands in the world, but only one Sigur Ros.
Monday night was another sold out show for the Icelandic quartet at their now-traditional digs in town, Massey Hall. They could obviously play and fill a much larger room, but the classy environs and acoustics of the Old Lady Of Shuter Street are too perfectly suited for the band to ever consider moving… having said that, watch them play somewhere huge and awful next time. Anyway. Support on this tour came from fellow Icelanders Parachutes, whom are easily described as sounding very Icelandic. This might seem awful reductive, but the fact is they sounded almost exactly like a Mum cover band made up of grade school students trying their hand at covering Sigur Ros. The eight-piece were quite effective at creating the shimmering, tinkertoy orchestra that might imply, but didn’t manage to establish any sort of identity of their own. Everything they did had been done better before, and would be done so again about a half hour after they finished up.
In all the past times I’d seen Sigur Ros, the show was very much in keeping with the mysteriousness of the first couple albums. The band seemed perfectly content – even intent – on keeping as low a profile as possible and letting the music (and lightshow) carry everything. This time, even though they started out as one might have expected with the sombre Takk closer “Heysatan” in almost pitch darkness – great for us photographers – there was obviously something else going on. For starters, there were costumes. Most notable were Jonsi Birgisson looking like Chris Martin’s stunt double and drummer Orri Pall Dyrason looking like a vagrant Burger King. This was not the wardrobe of individuals looking to blend into the background. And throughout the course of the set as they alternated the older moody material with the newer, more sprightly songs – all delivered with grandeur and drama – there were even more happenings unprecedented at a Sigur Ros show. Banter (though a lot of it was in Icelandic I think), invitations to sing along, and even a few performance flubs (just enough to be endearing). This was a Sigur Ros not as aliens, not as elves, but simply as people. It seems like an obvious enough statement but in the past, not necessarily the case.
And there was an encore. I don’t think I’d ever seen them do an encore before, and when they tore into their usual apocalyptic set closer of “Popplagio / The Pop Song”, I assumed that would be it. Goodness knows that a song that intense would be near impossible to follow. And so, as the band left the stage and the crowd stood in applause, I thought that’d be it. The band would come out for their curtain call and everyone would go home. But instead, the roadies were scurrying around on stage, bringing out acoustic guitars and quite obviously setting up for more songs. Unbelievable. And return they did, for a reading of “Illgresi” and then, with Parachutes on hand with drums and percussion and Birgisson asking everyone to clap along, the real finale of “Gobbledigook” and the at the crescendo of that, Massey Hall quite literally exploded in brightly coloured confetti – possibly one of the most joyous things I’ve ever seen. I wish I’d had my camera at the ready but even without, it’s an image that I won’t soon forget.
Photos: Sigur Ros @ Massey Hall – September 22, 2008
MP3: Sigur Ros – “Gobbledigook”
MP3: Sigur Ros – “Popplagio / The Pop Song”
MP3: Sigur Ros – “Staralfur”
Video: Sigur Ros – “Gobbledigook”
Video: Sigur Ros – “Inni Mer Syngur Vitleysingur”
MySpace: Sigur Ros
Mogwai are releasing The Hawk Is Howling today and they’re marking the occasion… by by cancelling their North American tour. Medical issues have felled drummer Martin Bulloch and all remaining dates – including Wednesday’s gig at the Phoenix – have been axed. They will be rescheduled for Spring 2009 and all tickets for this show will be honoured then, or you can return them at point of purchase for a refund. But as consolation, here’s an interview with Stuart Braithwaite at Wired and The Quietus has an apology from Bulloch for having a dodgy heart.
And if you’re disappointed about losing out on that particular opportunity to go deaf, remember that My Bloody Valentine are at the Kool Haus on Thursday. Spin has a profile on the band and Billboard a review of their first North American show in forever at ATP in New York this past weekend and The New York Times has a feature and interview with Kevin Shields.
Pitchfork talks to Brendan Canning about his next video and the possible return of Broken Social Scene as a band and not a brand for solo projects. Broken Social Scene the band – they’ve probably realized that’s more marketable – have scheduled a local date at the Sound Academy on November 27, tickets $25. Don’t complain about the venue – it’s your own fault you made the band popular.
Sunset Rubdown are at Lee’s Palace on October 13, tickets $12.