There’s a directing technieque known as “bookending,” in which the image that starts a movie is paralleled by the one that ends it. Not only does this unite the movie by ending on the same note on which it began, but it also gives a sense of closure and emotional appeal. While I doubt Sigur Ros dabble in directing, they seem to use a similar approach with their live show.
Sigur Ros took the stage amid a subtle light effect that was projected onto a screen that separated them from us. The band played through a heartwrenchingly beautiful version of “Glosoli” with the audience only able to see shadows on the screen. It wasn’t until after the applause died down that the audience got their first glimpse of the Islandic superheros. This could not have been a more fitting way to start. Their concert seemed to focus more on the experience of the show, rather than the members themselves. So not only did the screen provide for a good visual effect, but it put the audience’s perspective on the music and the show, rather than on the people in the band.
Another interesting thing about Sigur Ros’ show is the difference between “knowledge” and “understanding.” Before walking into the Palace, I knew that one man was responsible for the otherworldly vocals of Sigur Ros. But to see him sing was something else entirely. About halfway through the show, I realized that I had always pictured Takk… as having been written and performed by an angelic choir. I also knew that Jónsi, the band’s lead singer, played his guitar with a cello bow. But to see him do it with such passion and fury has he does on stage is a completely different experience. For the most part, he was as steady and smooth as a metronome; but that quickly changed into violent thrusts as the songs got more energetic.
As their main set wound to a close, the band transformed into an explosion of sound. Goggi, the band’s bassist, played his instrument with a drumstick; while Jonsi repeatedly bashed the strings of his guitar with his bow. While his guitar appeared none the worse for wear, some of his bow’s strings frayed or broke off. Eventually the band walked off stage, leaving Jonsi hunched over his guitar, broken bow in hand. As he left the stage, the Palace erupted in a sea of applause and cheers. A handful of people yelled out “Takk!” (Iclandic for “thanks”–and the name of the band’s last album), while most were content to clap.
As I said before, Sigur Ros were all about the drama and spectacle of their live show. Part of this manifested itself in their wait to come back for an encore, but most of it was shown through their actual closing performance. Sigur Ros’ encore lasted longer than some entire sets. All told, it was about half an hour, and ranged from grand spectacles to quiet ballads. For two songs, they brought out a foot-powered pump organ and said goodbye to their female stringed mini-orchestra that had spent most of the concert behind them.
For the final number, the screen once again descended between the audience and the band. Besides framing the concert nicely, this also allowed the audience to focus on the amazing sound reaching our ears, rather than being distracted by trying to see the band. So while I saw this as a fitting “bookend” to their concert, I couldn’t have guessed as to how they would top the rest of the show.
The band’s final song, “Popplagið,” was everything that you’d imagine a Sigur Ros concert-closing song would be. I honestly believe that each member left their entire being on the stage that night. Each of them were focused intently on their instrument, but conscious of the feel of the song. After crescendoing into one of the most memorable concert experiences of my life, it was abruptly over. The End.
As the audience flooded out into the cold, cold night, I realized that there was something supremely amazing about what we’d just witnessed. I saw people laughing, some people looked like they had been crying, and I gave and received more than my fair share of hugs. Sigur Ros, a band that spoke no english while on stage, had caused an emotional reaction this strong in thousands of complete strangers. I guess that’s what’s so mythical about them. No one had any idea what they were saying–but everyone understood exactly what they meant.