Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER
Thunderstorms were forecast for Friday night, but mother nature stepped aside, allowing Icelandic dream merchants Sigur Ros to roll into the Mann Center and electrify the audience with a distorted, bowed electric guitar, thunderous malleted drumming, ponderous piano, and ascending falsetto singing in Hopelandic — a hodgepodge of Icelandic, English and emoted syllables. Earlier in the day, I daydreamed about the sound of rain falling on the cavernous wooden covering overhead, the electricity from thunderbolts commingling with the electricity from the amplifiers and speakers on stage. After the show, though, it was clear that a thunderstorm would have been redundant.
Though recent tours have included a full orchestra, Sigur Rós is currently touring with just the three core members of the band, but if you’d closed your eyes during the set, the wall of sound that confronted you was so immense that you may have been easily convinced that it was created by an ensemble five times the size. Overlapping in sonic pools of reverb, the sounds that Sigur Rós generates from just three instruments fill the air with overtones that sink into your skin and massage your spine. Jónsi’s guitar hangs low on his body, and he wields it as if he’s holding the weight of the world, sending out undulating, explosive sound waves every time he runs the bow across the six humming strings. Hailing from a country full of geothermal vents, volcanoes, and raw natural beauty, it’s as if Jónsi produces art on behalf of the Earth. Sigur Rós, more than any group artists or musicians I’ve seen so far, presents as though they are antennae, receiving transmissions of energy from the celestial bodies that our universe is comprised of, but are exceedingly easy to ignore.
The visual components of the staging took the show to another level, adding to the cosmic feel of the set. There were several screens on the stage, on which a nebulous story was told through lights and images. Variations of black and red masses reminiscent of lava flowed into black billowing smoke cloud, suggesting eruption. The first song back from an intermission, the band stood in the center of the stage, behind the screen. The drummer played a drum pad, and when he hit the accented beat, a bright, white light shot out from behind the band and streamed through lines that ran outward to the wings of the stage. And never before had I seen strobe lights utilized in such an effective manner, adding to the intensity of crescendos without feeling didactic or cheap.
During a brief period of quiet between songs, someone yelled out in a classic, hoagie-mouth South Philly accent, “I love you Jonesy!” hammering a hard ‘j.’ While everyone in the know wanted to correct him, we let his exuberance go, unchecked. Because even though his pronunciation was off — the Sigur Ros’ frontman’s name is pronounced YON-see — his sentiment wasn’t. And the crowd who showed up didn’t consist of people who would want to bring down someone like this fan, who was clearly having a good time. Few times in my life have I felt so comfortable around a large crowd, which I attribute to Sigur Rós appealing to people who are kind and thoughtful, connected to themselves and the world around them. — DILLON ALEXANDER