Sigur Rós – Spark Arena: August 6, 2022 (Concert Review)

Sigur Rós brought their magic and majesty for the second time to New Zealand and it was a powerful and captivating theatre experience. From one small, distant land of volcanoes to another. The performers make it monumental and dissolve all boundaries, encompassing the world and beyond.

Their music is recognisable to Western and most likely Eastern ears. It is melodic and harmonious. It is simultaneously outside of all that, like a parallel world.

The auditorium darkens to signal the commencement. The stage light is minimal which keeps the performers in the dark for most of the show. The big screen behind occupies the visual attention. They do not appear on-screen the whole evening.

Sigur RosVaka begins the evening. A slow and stately piano, building into lugubrious church organ tones. The singer comes in with his distinctive high, piercing angelic vocal.

Where does that come from? Jónsi Birgisson is voice and guitar. He sings in Volenska or Hopelandic. Vocalising primarily for melody and rhythm with no relation to any language. A pure musical instrument, or an exotic animal call with its own messages and meaning.

Fyrsta and the incantatory singing sounds like whales or dolphins. Reminiscent a little of Dolphin Smile from the Notorious Byrd Brothers album of 1968. Closer still to the other-worldly voice are the sounds of Moog Raga on the expanded version of that album.

The rest of the quartet. Georg Holm bass, Olafur Olafsson drums and Kjartan Sveinsson multiple instruments including keyboards, reeds, brass, guitars.

A low rumble of thunder and sonar pings and the audience raise a cheer of familiarity for Sven-G-Englor. Big drums sounding like they can shift tectonic plates. The voice keens like an unearthly spirit. A middle passage matches this with molten metal from a bowed guitar. They reach a climatic finish.

This signals an escalation of uberskronk with the following Rafmagnied Buid. A slow atmospheric intro swells into a crashing storm. The bowed guitar is a blanket of elemental noise, accompanied by a trombone. A brief passage of respite which sounds like the ominous intro to the Door’s The End. Then the drum bombs explode and its metal-on-metal screeching whilst the high voice wings above it.

When they get slow and heavy, they sound like medieval monks.

Several songs start with a gospel-inflected piano. But its Nordic gospel and it builds into orchestral pop.

Closing song of the first set has that Euro-church setting. The music is cinematic and the band’s music has featured on several movies and television series. This one evokes ice mountains and Northern Lights, which appear on the big backdrop. We are in the Game of Thrones, where they had a guest spot in one episode.

This is heightened in the second set. They open with Glosoli. The visual effects of 2001: A Space Odyssey when crossing the Star Gate, are on the screen. The drums start with a march beat, but the singer comes closer to a more conventional pop sound with this one. Not too much though, as the meshed sound of the bowed guitar melts into the arch orchestral pop.

Saeglopur is another crowd favourite. The piano begins with a melody close to Springsteen’s Because the Night. It’s all pleasant and pastoral with a piper included. Then a startling jump as the big guns go off and a melodic attack of ordnance follows. On screen there is a naked swimmer surrounded by fish.

The music of Sigur Rós evokes themes of environment and ecology on a grand scale. Ice and volcanoes. Iceland was in the world news in 2010 when Eyjafjallajokul erupted and disrupted European air travel for weeks.

The closing song Popplagio finishes the show in triumph. There is reference to the Laurie Anderson sound of Big Science with the beginning. Dreamy and melodic folk pop. Then the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey fills the screen. It becomes tribal and all the floor patrons are off their seats as the music lifts off with drone power.

Dramatic and cinematic. Spiritual and environmental. Sigur Rós and their massive show as it blew through Auckland tonight.

Rev Orange Peel     

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