April 4, 2013
If you've ever been to a concert where at times you felt like you were seeing Muse, Enya, and Nine Inch Nails, then you were probably seeing something pretty special. I, at times throughout the Sigur Ros show at Starlight Theater on a brisk 48 degree night this week, felt like I was seeing (and hearing) all those bands...I saw something special.
The choice to perform at an outdoor venue in early April in Kansas City was an interesting one. When we got our tickets we crossed our mind fingers in hopes that it wouldn't be 30 degrees. Or raining. Or raining and 30 degrees. Or 90 degrees. Or 90 degrees with a tornado. Or any degrees with a tornado. It was none of those degrees or other meteorological things. Thanks, mind fingers!
It was actually kind of perfect, weatherly speaking. It was in the high 40s to low 50s and clear. It felt more Fall than Spring. To see a band from Iceland in any other climate wouldn't have seemed fitting. It would be like when you see a polar bear at the zoo in August, it makes you just want to burn the zoo down ('cause that would really save the animals!). It seemed like we were seeing them as they were meant to be seen. There's a bleak, but hopeful component to their ethereal music that elicits images of a tedious chore that is rewarded with rapture at its completion. It wouldn't make sense if they hailed from a warm homeland. They're a coats and gloves band for sure, not boardshorts and flops.
On to the show.
The first two songs they played were done so behind a translucent "curtain" I'll call the "Membrane," and I can honestly say I've never seen anything quite like it. A Perfect Circle did a similar thing on their Mer De Noms tour 13 years ago, but the execution/impact was not the same (notice I didn't say it was worse?...my Maynard loyalty is moderately concerning). Think back to grade school when you turned off the science room lights and shined a flashlight through an egg and saw all the gunk and veins and preformed chicken bits. It was like that, but with Sigur Ros being the chicken bits, the "Membrane" being the shell, and the gunk and veins being the images and swirling designs being projected onto the "Membrane."
It's hard these days to come up with something truly original in the way of visuals for a rock show (I would think), but they did it. The "Membrane" eventually dropped to the floor (hatched!! ...no?), and I was pleased to discover the hypnotic visual roadtrip we were on was not yet done. Lamps without shades at different heights surrounded the 10 musicians on stage (3 strings, 3 horns, 4 Sigur Ros's) and a huge horizontal screen behind the band made this performance truly a "show," and not just a concert.
The dark and sometimes brooding nature of Sigur Ros' music has strange effects on the crowd. At times (the beginning) I felt slightly embarrassed by the lack of energy I was feeling from our side of things, but I now realize it was something more of awe than apathy. Okay, awe might be a bit much. Maybe it was happy confusion. Or maybe sensory overload or the manifestation of a large group of people's brains searching for an appropriate reaction to a stimulus with no real precedent. Maybe it was cold and it's harder to hear glove-claps. Whatever it was in the beginning, it changed. They won us over, if that's how you choose to see it. Towards the deep-middle of the set, people started getting the holy ghost. There was spontaneous standing and hands-raised-palms-forwarding. There was louder cheering. There was dancing.
As I alluded to earlier, their music can be sweet, it can be beautiful, and it can be flat-out industrial prog rock. I honestly thought of NIN on more than 3 occasions. I didn't expect that, but it's not at all a complaint. As all you devoted followers of concertninja well know, this was a 3-show week for me, and not that I'm an art judger (actually, I kind of am), but this was the week's winner by a safe distance, and I really wouldn't have predicted that going into it. The combination of venue, weather, vibe, and execution made it a Stand-Out show in a week of stand-out shows.
Maybe my favorite song of the night was a new one, Brennisteinn, which was emailed with 2 other songs as a digital EP to all who bought tickets to Sigur Ros about a week prior to the show. Upon hearing it live I wasn't quite sure if it was the new song (give me a break, they don't speak English and I'd only heard it a couple times), so we just referred to it as "The Green Song," because of the visuals that accompanied it. The Green Song has a grimy bass pulse that's actually played on keyboard by the bassist that got so deep in your chest it transformed the act of swallowing into a completely voluntary act. It was, in a word, badass. Here's a version of it:
Other than that song, I only really knew 3 other songs well. Normally that would be a recipe for disaster for a concert (setlist anger!), but the nature of their music is such that it didn't really matter. Mood is king at a Sigur Ros show. I mean, what are you gonna do, sing along in the Icelandic/English/Other language they made up? I'll answer that: No, you're not. Hopefully you'll just be there, like I was, and appreciate a rare thing.
Here's another one I particularly enjoyed, followed by the setlist: