Live Music + Gig Reviews

Sigur Rós @ Somerset House, London

10 July 2005

Sigur Rós have been involved in an assortment of side projects since the release of () in 2002.

Iceland’s second best known musical export, now with a million record sales under their collective belt, composed music for Hlemmur, a documentary film centred on characters in Reykjavik’s much maligned bus station, and gave away the CD on tour.

Front man Jónsi Birgisson performed solo under the alias Frakkur while guitarist Kjartan and drummer Orri performed as The Lonesome Traveller.

And, together with Radiohead, they scored music for Merce Cunningham’s dance work Split Sides, which resulted in the EP Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do.

Now, ahead of the band’s fourth studio album Takk (set for release in September 2005) and at the start of an extensive world tour, Sigur Rós were tonight appearing in the courtyard of a former tax office on the banks of the Thames.

Azure sky, a perfect sunset over grand stonemasonry and scurrying bull ants are, granted, not the first thoughts one would associate with a Sigur Rós gig. But the four-piece’s London appearance tonight would not be characterised by cliches of storm-battered cliffs and ice fields.

As the summer sun sank behind the stately walls of Somerset House and support act Amina, with their assorted wine glasses and saws, left the stage, I detected a large quotient of American accents in the audience.

Our headlining northerly troupe have long been bigger in the States than on these shores, but that looks set to be rebalanced with a new major label distribution deal in the UK.

The twinkly, glocks-based music of Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do reminded of the sparklingly quiet moments from Bjork‘s Verspertine album as it was aired to calming effect early in the gig. In these grandiose surroundings I had to fight the urge to close my eyes and let my imagination wash visuals across my brain. Somehow, this stately building seemed incongruous with the music filling it.

Material from the new record, including the previously aired Mlanó – an optimistic, serene track – and Gong, was attentively listened to. Much of it was new to the audience, including me, but I’d not noticed the mooted radical shift in the Sigur Rós sound. Rumours had suggested the new album would be a more accessible creation than () and more melodic than Ba Ba Ti Ki De Do’s experimentation, yet tonight’s set did not convince that a seismic shift in the band’s sound was imminent. But that’s not a bad thing – this has never been a band who make singalong music.

So it wasn’t until gtis Byrjun’s set staple N Batter, with its mesmerising yet now familiar drums, that the audience looked like moving with the music. Even then such participation was far from universal. Audiences at Sigur Rós gigs, I’ve noticed, tend not to move en masse but rather as individuals. Everyone seems to get different things from the sometimes ethereal, sometimes incandescent and deeply personal sounds the band make. Being moved by, rather than moving to, the music seems to be the essence.

We were treated to the serene pulsing of Svefn-g-Englar, and Olsen Olsen, so quiet it crept unbidden into brains before ears registered it, then built to a rousing finale.

The still waiflike Jónsi spent much of the set bowing his electric guitar – of course – but switched to glocks and keyboards too, as the sun sank and darkness consumed us.

The set closed with Von’s Hafssol, still exploding the band’s set in a whirl of pizzicato violins and crashing cymbals. But a Sigur Rós gig is no longer complete without Popplagid – ()’s The Pop Song. It duly formed the encore – six minutes of pining, longing emotion followed by a force 9 hurricane. And there was us with our sandals on for summer, too.

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