Live Music + Gig Reviews

Sigur Rós @ Hammersmith Apollo, London

12 February 2003

Sigur Rós Sigur Rós have been feted by everyone – from Thom Yorke to Tom Cruise. But their last album was called (). And none of the eight tracks have titles. Vocalist Jonsi long ago gave up on singing in Icelandic and has invented his own half-language called “Hopelandic”. And he plays his electric guitar with a bow. Pretentious, right?

Devotees asembled for Sigur Rós’s only UK date on their current tour, in the big barn that is the Apollo would beg to differ. Subdued lighting levels welcomed the Reykjavik combo on stage to an eerie start, a string quartet set centre stage between drummer, bassist, a synth section that looked more like a control room and the gangly Jonsi, who alternated between keys, guitar and vocals.

His incomprehensible words intermeshed with a reflective soundscape of quirky strings, low modulation synth and quietly brushed cymbals, the combination of which was transporting, causing magic to crackle in the air.

But then, as if we’d been hit with a squall, Jonsi’s voice became a howling banshee of note-perfect falsetto. His right arm began pumping his bow up and down his electric guitar, generating wave after wave of feedback as the drums upped the ante into something akin to a tribal call to arms. Lighting, too, contributed to the effect of an extraordinary happening. A green spot threw a reflection of Jonsi, hunched over his bowing, onto a side wall, making him appear like some deranged daemon from a hellish world up to no good, while the string section were lit as if they were not quite people, but presences. Pounding, mesmerising – and then it was quiet again.

There was applause for recognised tracks from Agaetis Byrjun, but it was the edgier, darker material from () that captivated most.

The final track of the main set built on a pizzicato strings loop of a vaguely oriental nuance, using the bowed guitar feedback and pounding drums to build to a crescendo of mesmerising proportions. It exploded spectacularly as the drummer left the stage followed by the rest of the band, a feedback-induced white noise blowing apart the frenzied string-picking of the violins as disorientating visuals added to the spectacle.

A single encore brought about an extraordinary set closure – track 8 from (). Off-the-wall bass notes added to the spine-tingling music as Jonsi’s falsetto howls broke a thousand hearts and tremendous noise reverberated around.

A standing ovation was the least the audience could do. It duly obliged.

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