Frank YangFor a band for whom a large part of their appeal is being unknowable and otherworldly, there’s been a high degree of predictability with Sigur Ros, at least when it comes to their Toronto shows. For over a decade, they’ve come through town in support of each record for an exquisite show at Massey Hall that would send 2700 or so of their fans dazed into the night. For the last time they set up anywhere besides the Grand Old Lady of Shuter Street, you’d have to go back to May 2001 when they made their local debut with a legendary show at Palais Royale. On Wednesday night, it was back to the shores of Lake Ontario they returned with a show at Echo Beach, the outdoor setting ensuring that the vibe of things would be different than what we were used to, to say nothing of allowing more than twice as many people as usual to witness the Icelanders in action.
Support for their short run of headlining dates before entering the festival circuit came from Perfume Genius, an unexpected but welcome choice. Mike Hadreas’ work elicits many of the same adjectives as Sigur Rós – beautiful, heartbreaking, transcendent, what have you – but whereas the they work in mystery and epic-scale sounds, Perfume Genius is all about being laid bare and raw in small, perfectly imperfect pieces. Though distracted by the planes coming in to land at the island airport and suffering from a cold – though he mentioned that he could still “smell weed and pork” – Hadreas proved that the intimate piano songs which would have seemed to be tailor-made for cozy rooms like the Drake, where he was in April, or 918 Bathurst, where he’ll be on October 5, also sounded great loud; the drums on “Dark Part” were particularly dramatic at that volume. The set was mainly comprised of material from this year’s excellent Put Your Back N 2 It and his 2010 debut Learning, as well as a couple covers – Madonna’s “Oh Father” and a surprisingly perfect cover of Neil Young’s “Helpless”, Hadreas’ vulnerable warble and piano phrasing doing the near-impossible and making the classic almost seem like it was his own.
Leave it to Sigur Rós to release their most ambient and abstract record in a decade with Valtari and then take it on the road not to the theatre settings that it might be best served live, but to the big outdoor stages of fests and amphitheatres where its intricacies would most certainly not be appreciated. Or so you’d think. Opening up with two selections from the new record, Sigur Rós took advantage of the fact that their audience would be so enraptured with their first local appearance in almost four years that they’d just stand there and take it all in – which they did. “Ekki Múkk” and “Varúð” were met with as close to total silence as you’ll likely get from 6000 people. Then they turned back and up for “Ný Batterí” from Ágætis Byrjun and it was within their back catalog that they would remain for most of the rest of the night.
Though core member Kjartan Sveinsson elected to sit this tour out, the band were hardly shorthanded – performing as an 11-piece, with horns and strings and all the trimmings, it was as big-sounding a Sigur Ró as we’d ever seen in these parts, performing on a stage lit with incandescent bulbs and projections shone onto three sides of the band. And yet for all the power at their fingertips, the prevailing mood of the evening was of serenity and celebration – a perfect fit for a warm Summer’s night with a breeze off the lake and a full moon in the sky. There were certainly dramatic moments, often courtesy of Jonsi’s bowed Les Paul, but even those were more of the awe-inspiring majesty of nature sort, like a glacier cutting through land and centuries.
The breadth of the catalog was well-represented, though Ágætis Byrjun did get extra attention, perhaps at the expense of the lighter tones of Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, which was represented only – but well, thanks to a horn-powered finale – by “Festival”. Some may have bemoaned the absence of “Gobbledigook”, but perhaps it was for the best – if it hadn’t ended in a massive explosion of confetti the way it did at Massey in September 2008, it would have felt a touch disappointing.
And disappointing is not a word that should ever be associated with a Sigur Rós show. For almost two hours, and benefitting from really immaculate sound – no compromises with an outdoor venue here, thankfully – it was as good a show as they’ve ever put on here, but thanks to the setting, even for those with an extensive catalog of live Sigur Rós memories, it will be a standout.
The Toronto Sun, BlogTO, and National Post were also in attendance. NPR has their show from Tuesday night in Brooklyn available to stream and Stereogum and The Montreal Gazette have interviews.
Photos: Sigur Ros, Perfume Genius @ Echo Beach – August 1, 2012
MP3: Sigur Rós – “Gobbledigook”
MP3: Sigur Rós – “Hoppípolla”
MP3: Sigur Rós – “Popplagio / The Pop Song”
MP3: Sigur Rós – “Staralfur”
MP3: Sigur Rós – “Svefn-G-Englar”
MP3: Sigur Rós – “Nýja lagið”
MP3: Perfume Genius – “Rusty Chains”
MP3: Perfume Genius – “Hood”
MP3: Perfume Genius – “Dark Parts”
MP3: Perfume Genius – “All Waters”
MP3: Perfume Genius – “Learning”
Video: Sigur Rós – “Rembihnútur”
Video: Sigur Rós – “Fjögur Píanó”
Video: Sigur Rós – “Varúð” (version two)
Video: Sigur Rós – “Varúð” (version one)
Video: Sigur Rós – “Ég anda” (version two)
Video: Sigur Rós – “Ég anda” (version one)
Video: Sigur Rós – “Ekki Múkk”
Video: Sigur Rós – “Við Spilum Endalaust “
Video: Sigur Rós – “Inní mér syngur vitleysingur”
Video: Sigur Rós – “Gobbledigook”
Video: Sigur Rós – “Sæglópur”
Video: Sigur Rós – “Hoppípolla”
Video: Sigur Rós – “Glósóli”
Video: Sigur Rós – “(Vaka)”
Video: Sigur Rós – “Viðrar vel til loftárása”
Video: Sigur Rós – “Svefn-G-Englar”
Video: Perfume Genius – “Dark Parts”
Video: Perfume Genius – “Hood”
Video: Perfume Genius – “Lookout, Lookout”
Sessions From The Box is streaming a studio session with The Deer Tracks.
Drowned In Sound talks to Maria Lindén of I Break Horses, who are aiming to have their second album out in Spring of next year.
Maxïmo Park gives The Line Of Best Fit a track-by-track walkthrough of their latest album The National Health.
Ellie Goulding has announced an October 9 release date for her second album, entitled Halcyon. She recently released an Active Child cover because why not and has also been declared one of Rolling Stone‘s “Women Who Rock”.
MP3: Ellie Goulding – “Hanging On”
The San Francisco Examiner and DIY get to know Alt-J, in town at Wrongbar on September 19.
DIY checks in with Mica Levy of Micachu. A couple more tracks from Never have also been made available to download.
MP3: Micachu & The Shapes – “Low Dogg”
MP3: Micachu & The Shapes – “You Know”
Kele Okereke talks to Spin about how cracking a joke turned into a productive crisis for Bloc Party in completing their new album Four, out August 21. This hot on the heels of another quote he gave The Music about this maybe being the band’s last record, which he’s already taken to his blog to clarify. Oh, Kele. Bloc Party are at The Danforth Music Hall on September 10 and their gig at Terminal 5 in New York next week, August 8, will be streaming live on YouTube.
Rolling Stone has a video of Neil Halstead playing a song off his new solo record Palindrome Hunches, out September 11.
Elbow namedrops some very tasty reference points to The Worksop Guardian with regards to their next studio album. Their Dead In The Boot rarities comp is out August 27.
Spinner chats with Lætitia Sadier, in town for a show at The Drake on September 18. She’s just released a new video from Silencio.
Video: Lætitia Sadier – “The Rules Of The Game”
DIY investigates the many creative phases of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds; kudos to them for not making it about his facial hair.
Mono turns to Iceland for inspiration in the new video from For My Parents, out September 4. It’s enough to make you want to hop on a plane to Reykjavik – which I wholly endorse – but maybe wait until after their show at The Horseshoe on September 12.
Video: Mono – “Legend”