By Steve Jansen
I’ve had a private relationship with Sigur Rós for years now.
You see, the mood-driven Icelandic post-rock foursome is one of those groups that I can only listen to alone, usually when I’m torn up about something. The band’s sweeping instrumentals, charged by the eerie falsetto of lead singer/guitarist Jónsi Birgisson, is the perfect music to get over a breakup to.
So it was with some reservation that I went down to a sold out Marquee Theatre in Tempe and checked out the band, which has been selling out venues all over the U.S. during its current world tour. Why the hesitation? Because I had some doubts that I would be able to enjoy the band’s personal melodramatic songs while surrounded by a flock of foolios.
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Sigur Rós opened the night with the emo anthem “Svefn-G-Englar,” a tune from Ágætis Byrjun that had a super violent-sounding noise jam before transitioning into a sleepytime lullaby. This would be the first (and not the last) time that Birgisson – who was covered in all-black garb and sporting some silver sparkly stuff on his face – would produce weird sounds by taking a bow to his electric guitar.
From there, the band played tunes from some of the better-known LPs, such as ( ), Takk…, and its newest effort, Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust (translated as With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly), which is Sigur Rós’ most radio-ready album to date. Each song – some that sounded as if they could narrate some of the most dramatic scenes in movies such as Lord of the Rings or Braveheart – featured frontman Birgisson singing in a totally made-up gibberish called Volenska.
The band succeeded the most during its hour-and-forty-minute set when they allowed the sleepy soundscapes to open up into super loud and very passionate jams. There was also some very cool aesthetic eye candy to augment each song, such as live black-and-white closeup shots of individual band members that was projected on a screen behind the band and a stream of confetti so thick that you could barely see the stage (sounds cheesy, but it was actually pretty awesome).
As far as my stigma with listening to such personal music in a public context, I got over that pretty quickly and ended up enjoying the experience. It probably helped that it was the first time that I'd actually seen such a well-behaved crowd at the normally raucous Marquee. To be honest, it was a little weird witnessing such little movement from all of the shoegazers and artsy fartsy folks in the crowd, even when the band went nuts on stage (basically, I’ve seen 200-year old oak trees with more sway). But you won't hear me complain about a comatose crowd, especially when Sigur Rós is centerstage.