To celebrate the 20th anniversary of their debut album, Sigur Rós have chosen Dom Sportova. Following the announcement of the arrival of the Icelandic post-rockers to Croatia, everyone started rescheduling their “errands” with respect to that date. After many tours in various forms and seven studio albums, the band has finally gotten a well-deserved reputation which has been celebrated in the last few years as “An Evening with Sigur Rós”. During the last tour, they decided on a slightly more “bare” approach, by having three members, so they came to Zagreb in the lineup of singer and guitarist Jónsi Birgisson, bass player Georg Hólm and drummer Orri Páll Dýrason.
The success of Sigur Rós is, to say the least, remarkable in so many ways. Let’s be realistic, their music is simply wonderful, but it really isn’t that much different from what Radiohead was serving at the beginning of the century. So what’s the deal?
Though they have made many great things over the years, the material called “Von” (means “Hope”), which was published twenty years ago, was largely unknown. It is a very experimental, ambient album that was first released only in their native country. It is known that in order to be able to record the album, they agreed to the painting of that Studio, by themselves. The production of that album took a while, and obviously, the result was turning out gradually different from the original studio recordings. The guys wanted to bin the final material and start all over again, but as luck would have it, that didn’t happen.
It’s been ages since Sigur Rós stunned everyone with their second studio album “Ágætis byrjun” (means “A good beginning”). The album was named after a friend of the band listened and made a comment on what would end up being the title song: “This is a good beginning”. Obviously, the band agreed with him and a new album was created. Thus begins the story of the band’s success. Nobody expected that an album made by a bunch of unknown, shy young men from Iceland, written in their native language, would achieve such success. Their origin label expected to sell about a 1,500 copies, but to this day they sold millions. Before the release of the album they posted the following on their website:
We do not aim to become superstars or millionaires. We are simply going to change music forever, and also the way people think about music.
It’s been twenty years since, and Sigur Rós have finally graced us with their presence, even if it was in that heartless hall.
Although the Standing Room tickets were sold out within a few days of the announcement, there were still tickets available for the grandstands. The organizer’s attempt to put the stage in the middle of the venue wasn’t surprising, because the capacity of the venue was cut by a third. Of course, that didn’t affect the quality of the concert but could explain why the stands on the sides were empty. We were struggling for breathing room anyway, so maybe that was a positive thing.
The concert consisted of two sets of fifteen songs and a twenty minutes’ break. The whole repertoire, apart from a few newer things, was influenced heavily by the stuff from the early 00’s. Every song was perfectly performed from the beginning to the end, and for this kind of “bare” performance, this tour has quite a light show. The band always had innovative solutions on making their music alive, so they had a mobile metal set piece driving the crazy lights. Add videos, and it complemented the members thus creating a complete multimedia experience. Sometimes I get the impression that by throwing all those visual shenanigans in the mix, bands that are musically complex kind of underestimate their audience, by creating a light show where it really isn’t necessary. Fortunately this was far from true in this case. The light show really looked great in spite of all those phones in the air!
The band couldn’t have possibly compiled a better setlist, especially for lovers of the much darker third studio album “( )”. The album without title and accompanying text, was conceived by Jónsi and written in a fictional language – Vonlenska (originated from “Von”). The maturity of the band is best reflected by the songs of that album, because this wasn’t about a language in the true sense of meaning but the “voice” that is used as an instrument, regarding of performing songs with the help of meaningless lyrics. Since the songs on that album have no words or titles, the guys have since put unofficial titles on their website, so that common people could take setlist notes.
When a band first emerges on the scene with a pre-built sound, later there’s no real room for experimentation. The band peaked in the first half of the 00’s with the albums “( )” and “Takk” (means “Thanks”). Shortly after the release, the latter became their best-selling album in the whole universe, and unlike its predecessor, it includes words even though they still represented a big challenge for them. However, we only heard “Glósóli” and “Sæglópur” from that album, and they have made this ceremony perfectly beautified. Birgisson was the lead performer throughout, and what followed was the triumphal crescendo on “Festival” from “Með suð í eyrum við” spilum endalaust, first album ever recorded outside their borders. Its brilliance completely shattered all that bound them to their geographical origins and influences of the music they are creating.
Still, Sigur Rós will never be fully detached from their Icelandic magic and mysteriousness, so they brought out the title song of the album “Kveikur” (means “Fuse” or “Candlewick”). As for the whole concert material, they wisely selected only the best things and I believe if they ever released a “Greatest Hits”, that album would consist pretty much entirely of this set. An abrupt ending with “Popplagið” during which Birgisson moved to the edge of the stage, sounded like an appropriate tone that evening and perfectly rounded up their entire career in one act.
It’s been a few years since their last album “Valtari” (means “Steamroller”), the accompanying tour that followed on that occasion, as well as various film tapes and other forensic tasks, so they came back to the stage, after a well-deserved break. One could argue that perhaps we didn’t get to see this persistent trio in their full glory, but we’ve seen enough to be certain that their unique, supernatural, mystical and breathtaking music is even more dynamic than on studio albums. Transitions from minimalist, dimmed parts to the epic, atmospheric, full-fledged arrangements and then back to almost inaudible musical parts reinforced by Jónsi’s falset and a unique stage performance are the main reasons why I can without a doubt affirm that Sigur Rós is one of the most interesting and most extraordinary musical bands of today. Their performance was for me something really special. Perhaps it would have been better if they just packed up and left the stage, but they came back with a deep bow. And they repeated it again!
Takk, Sigur Rós!
1. Á 2. Ekki Múkk
3. Ný Batterí