You know that old rule your mum used to tell you: ‘If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all’? While it sure is nice to be spoken to politely, Sigur Rós must have listened really well to their mums, as they played the nicest and most awe inspiring of sets you’ll see this year, all the while saying a total of three words in English.
Returning for a slot on the 2017 line up after an understated, but equally brilliant set at Splendour In The Grass 2016, Sigur Rós lit up, engrossed, and genuinely left the crowd in utter awe-filled silence for the better part of two hours. Managing to sell out Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion, the Icelandic trio brought their A-game and displayed some of their best tracks in a career spanning set.
Branding the show as ‘An Evening With Sigur Rós’, the band played a fifteen song set, split into two parts. With an intermission in between sets, you definitely didn’t know what to expect from the band. Having seen some Youtube footage recently of them playing with an orchestra, I had my hopes pinned on something like this happening. And while the orchestra didn’t come to fruition, the noise and layering that only three guys put together over the next two hours was just as satisfying.
With the first half of the set including the sparse “Ekki Múkk” and the equally brilliant “E-Bow”, the stand outs from the first hour were definitely “Glósóli” and “Fljótavík”. One thing you have to know about Sigur Rós is that they’re a band of subtlety. They’re all quite reserved guys, who literally let their music do their talking. Yes, they are Icelandic, and yes, the language barrier could be a little confronting at times, but when you play tracks as dauntingly beautiful as “Glósóli” and “Fljótavík”, having the crowd understand what you’re saying becomes redundant.
The subtle yet unrelenting build to the final crescendo in “Glósóli” sent shivers down my spine. No joke. On the other hand “Fljótavík” is quite possibly one of the most pure moments of music you’ll ever witness in a live setting. It’s heartbreaking but hopeful at the same time. With a lighting display that transcended belief systems and only added to the depth of their music, if I could have pictured a more perfect song for my future bride to walk down the aisle to (it’s a long, long way off), then I’d be hard pressed to find one (on a side note, friends of mine walked down the aisle to the Sigur Rós track “Hoppípolla”; what a bloody beautiful song that is).
Closing out the first half with the chillingly cataclysmic “Varða”, the band disappeared into the darkness of back stage as silent as they did entering it. Returning twenty minutes later, if I had to describe this set with one word it would be ‘bangers’. But not in the ‘mad-hectic-watch this drop’ sense, but the ‘this is what the fans love us for’ sense. Once more, the set opened with the engrossing yet gentle “Óveður” before moving into the brilliant “Sæglópur”. As the opening chords filtered through the air, the crowd knew what they were about to witness. For the next eight minutes, no one looked away from the magic on stage (Okay, I don’t know this as fact, but you’d be pretty stupid to have done so).
As I took in the rest of the set, it dawned on me that I’d never seen such a large group of people be purely and utterly infatuated and enchanted like this before. Only once could I draw a similar comparison to a crowd standing in utter silence like this before, and that set was to a room of 200 people, not 5000. I remember thinking at their Splendour set last year that what I was hearing with my ears couldn’t have been better matched with what my eyes were witnessing. The lighting show that Sigur Rós have put together is a testament to who they are as a band. With the great “Ný Batterí” and “Vaka” to follow, the biggest moment of the night was definitely “Festival”. It’s one of those tracks that just builds and builds until you think it’s finally about to have a full blown conniption. Thankfully, “Festival” didn’t implode, and the way the band masterfully built those closing five minutes was a life affirming moment. No hyperbole. I fucking loved it.
As the night finished on “Kveikur” and “Popplagið” you sensed you’d just witnessed something that you might not see again. For a band that doesn’t say anything on stage, you for sure know that they put everything into their music. No words or hype can do what Sigur Rós does; that I’m certain of.
Photo by Andrew Wade, captured at Splendour in the Grass.