This series of gigs was Sigur Ros’ first in Iceland since their ‘Heima’ tour 5 years ago. Tonight was the first of four consecutive nights at Reykjavik’s Harpa centre, the central point of a four day art and music festival ‘Nordur Og Nidur’ (loosely translated as ‘Go To Hell’).
The Harpa building is truly stunning both inside and out. A modern architectural masterpiece, housing the gig auditorium and other rooms and open spaces, allowing the festival activities to take place in an informal, laid-back setting. The nooks of the building played host, at various moments, to random youngsters on brass playing snatches of SR songs, accompanied by seemingly random whistles. In another corner there was space for reflective, meditative moments using headphones and visors to transport us to peace-invoking scenescapes.
The Opening Ceremony in an airy galleried corner of the building was MC’d by a fella bedecked in a Sigur Ros Icelandic wool blanket (a steal on the merch stand at £260) who introduced a rendition of a Christmas carol delivered in brutal screamo fashion, counterbalanced by a choir (incorporating members of Amiina) with gentler melodies and heart-lifting harmonies. All followed by further choral songs accompanied on glockenspiel fashioned from animal bones.
Prior to the gig itself we sauntered to the ‘Eyri’ space to sample the Reyjkavik Bell Ringing School. Fantastic musicianship and incorporated three SR songs including Samskeyti (Untitled Song #3 on the ‘Brackets’ album) an all time favourite of mine which the band don’t do live due to the piano-heavy content; but delivered perfectly by the bell ensemble, a wonderful entrée to the main event.
The gig venue seated 1,500 but had an intimate feel. This was enhanced by the stage setting which saw a mesh curtain part way back, giving the stage a small feel. Drummer Orri was side-on with Jonsi centre-stage and Georg on bass to the left. A two hour set with a 20 minute interval. The first half had projections onto the mesh curtain. The theme of journeying into the underworld enhanced through classic numbers E-bow and Fjotavik. Final song Varda had Olli and Georg changing places bringing the first half to an exhilarating climax.
The interval saw gave time to nip to the bar for an additional ‘Sigur Ros’ beer, on sale especially for the occasion.
The second half opened with the band clustered together behind the mesh curtain. As the opening number Ovedur reached it’s end each staccato drum beat was accompanied by bullet-like lasers emanating into the audience. Stirring stuff and evident at this point that we needed to strap ourselves in for the final hour. As the band took their usual places and the curtain rose, the stage took on a more expansive feel, providing a wider canvas for the lighting pyrotechnics. More visions of what hell might look like, a feast of white strobes and multi-coloured imagery. No let up in the set, the conclusion of the vocal intro to ‘Festival’ was greeted with whoops as the band went into the frenzied instrumental section. And the pace continued and grew with title track from their most recent (2013) Kveikur album leading to the set climax Popplagid where we were simply taken out of ourselves to another place, left breathless and exhilarated.
This was a band playing on it’s home turf and delivering on every level. No encore. None necessary. Simply three curtain calls which saw the band taking deserved collective bows.
The festival continued post the central performance and we were able to bring ourselves gently down with Alex Somers performance, featuring extracts from his Riceboy Sleeps work on plinky piano and ambient tape loops. Blank Mass sent us on our way with bombastic tunes with video to match, ensuring our ears were ringing as we made our way home.
A wonderful experience; the proceedings were laced with references to Hell, but as one commentator has remarked ‘When God was creating the world he was listening to Sigur Ros’