Sigur Ros, Chicago Theater, Chicago, IL- 9/21
This year marks the first tour of the United States since 2003 for Icelandic-based shoegazer outfit Sigur Ros. The quartet, composed of Jon Birgisson (vocals, guitar, synth), Kjarten Sveinsson (piano, keyboards, guitar and flute), Georg Holm (bass, xylophone), and Orii Dyrason (drums, keyboards) have been lauded by critics and musicians alike since their explosion in the U.S. after the highly heralded Agaetis Burjun, which even Radiohead has cited as an influence. Their return to the U.S. is in support of their most recent studio effort entitled Takk, released in September of this year.
Aside from the creaking of rusty seats in the historic Chicago Theater, one could only hear the occasional whisper or hoot in an otherwise respectful crowd. But with an extremely refined ear, one might have heard the sounds of jaws dropping open as a single white spotlight illuminated Birgisson’s thin figure from below, casting a shadow 15 times his actual size on the screen behind him. This singular image accompanied the second song of the evening, "Glosoli," from Takk. The Tim Burton-esque stick figure shadow showed Birgisson’s arm and bow moving eerily back and forth. Birgisson’s (and Sigur Ros’) signature sound is partly the result of a rosin-loaded cello bow pulled back and forth across the strings of his Gibson Les Paul guitar and then put through intense amounts of reverb.
The other part of Sigur Ros’ sound is Birgisson’s atmospheric falsetto, which ascended to superhuman peaks during "Svefn-g-englar." At one point Birgisson was singing directly into his guitar, at others his circular breathing sustained notes for inconceivable lengths of time.
Despite the notoriously abstract and ethereal nature of this group, there were moments of groove. For example, "Seaglopur," whose repetitive chord progressions and nearly danceable drum beats were considerably more predictable than the slow drift of "Andvari." The joyous "Hoppipola" featured projections of what appeared to be someone jumping on a trampoline (again, out of focus and artsy as ever). In fact, the combination of both visual and musical climaxes was such a spectacle that calling it a "concert" isn’t as appropriate a moniker as "performance art."
Sigur Ros earned a standing ovation from the bliss-eyed crowd as they reappeared after the encore to take a final bow. Flanked by members of their opening act, Amina (who also joined them on stage for the majority of the 2nd half of the set), the members of Sigur Ros filed off the stage as the crowd began to funnel out of the theater. The words Sigur Ros translate into English as "victory rose," and that's an apt title considering their performance at the Chicago Theater was overwhelmingly a win-win situation for both band and audience.