As a band whose music is often shrouded in mystery, it seems fitting that Sigur Rós have opted to open each date of their latest series of concerts behind closed curtains. As the soothing sounds of a violin bow softly gliding over guitar strings and Jónsi’s trademark falsetto vocals flowed around Wolverhampton’s Civic Hall, all that anyone could see for the first three songs Yfirborð, Í Gær and Ný Batterí was one iridescent white curtain with occasional ghostly silhouettes on it thanks to strategically placed lighting. This was almost like a moment for the audience to dwell upon the evening that they knew they were about to enjoy. As the intense climax of Ný Batterí was reached, the curtain dropped to reveal Sigur Rós and their musical ensemble in all of their glory, and much cheering and clapping ensued.
From this moment on, it was a sensual treat for both the eyes and ears, as the band and their brass and string sections seamlessly recalled and performed a beautiful retrospective of tracks from albums Ágætis byrjun, ( ), Takk, Hvalf Heim and Valtari. There were also a few samples of what is to come on their next release, which Jónsi has recently stated will be rather different to their previous album Valtari. As dark red lighting and sombre piano chords filled the stage, goosebumps instantly raised upon my skin as I listened to Vaka (otherwise known as Untitled #1) from their 2002 album ( ). This was accompanied by a complimentary red video montage which used most of the actual music video that accompanies this track on a long screen, filling most of the back of the stage.
The red theme continued in the next song Olsen Olsen, from their second album Ágætis byrjun. As they played the almost waltz-like, swaying tune, the previously unlit bulbs which were scattered around the stage lit up like fairy lights, providing an added sense of warmth and magic. Sigur Rós may well have shocked some of the audience with their next choice of song, Brennisteinn, but it showcased an interesting direction for a band whose music is often so gentle in manner. This new track is much heavier, almost industrial in sound and is laced with rock elements which may well mark a new era of their music. This heavier influence was also reflected in set closer Kveikur.
As the familiar joyous sounds of their most famous track, Hoppípolla, ebbed around the hall, several ecstatic cheers were let out from the previously hushed audience. This song may have been used just about everywhere in the last few years, but live it sounds just as fresh as the first day it was released, indicating its place as a timeless classic. Usually when bands return for an encore, it is made up of 2 – 3 songs and lasts on average around 10 minutes. This is not the case for Sigur Rós, whose encore tracks for this evening, Svefn-g-englar and Popplagið, last almost 25 minutes. It was, however, 25 minutes well spent as the band put on a breathtaking performance which lacked none of the vigor or energy of earlier in the evening. Pretty impressive if you bear in mind that by this point they had been on the stage for the best part of 2 hours.
Regardless of how much Sigur Rós have crept their way into the main stream over the last decade through use in film and television soundtracks, this band have not been eaten up by their own success and remain a pioneering force in the genre of experimental music. Describing them in the live arena it’s extremely difficult to do them justice; all I can say is that their shows take you into a different world, which is perhaps why they have been chosen to play a rather special show in August below one of the world’s largest radio telescopes at Jodrell Bank. No doubt it will also be something breathtaking to behold.