Anticipation can be a wonderful or a terrible thing.
Having heard so much about Sigur Rós and their live concerts over the six years since a friend introduced them to me, I could barely contain my excitement as we waited in Nottingham Arena for the show to start.
Thankfully, Sigur Rós never disappoint.
They entered the stage concealed by a translucent fabric screen at the edge of the stage, behind which trippy support act ‘I Break Horses’ had played earlier, and began with a couple of the darker tracks from their latest album Kveikur, including the title song and Brennisteinn. Projecting abstract, almost apocalyptic images onto the screen, such as people in gas masks and other images associated with human disaster, it was quite a frightening and intense beginning to the concert.
With a bang, the screen fell to the floor and the band were revealed for the first time: four band members accompanied by backing singers, a trombone, tuba and trumpet and various percussionists – the Icelandic band never ones to do things by halves. The stage design was very simple, but the most effective I’ve ever seen at a concert, with the band choosing to focus on using light to add another dimension to their music. The stage was covered with about twenty floor lamps of differing heights topped only with bare light bulbs which glowed on and off in time to the music or were dimmed to create a particular atmosphere for a song. More abstract visuals were shown on three screens on the wall behind the stage, which helped with understanding the songs at times, such as Hoppipolla (meaning ‘jumping in puddles’ in Icelandic), which was accompanied by a loop of children in wellies doing just that.
Experiencing Sigur Rós live allows you to appreciate how their unique sound is made. The band uses layers of different instruments to create a sound quite discordant at times, mainly achieved in the form of electric scraping string instrument which is hard to place until you realise it is an electric guitar being played with a cello bow. On top of this Jónsi’s ethereal counter-tenor voice is enough to stir some serious emotions in anyone, regardless of whether you speak Icelandic or not.
They moved onto some of the lighter songs from the album, and played several much-loved songs from some of their older albums such as Takk… and ( ), including Sæglópur. Using some clever lighting, as Jónsi started to sing the slow, gentle, high-pitched end of the song, the audience was bathed in a golden glow giving the effect of a sunset and evoking a calmness rarely found outside of nature.
However, by playing their songs in such an order, and in light of the beginning of their set, the band seemed to be trying to portray the potential of humanity to rebuild and recover regardless of what happens in the future, a beautifully positive message from a beautifully positive band.
They all looked exhausted after the 2 hour set, which epitomises why Sigur Rós are such a special band to see live – they give it their absolute all every time they perform. It is obvious to anyone watching them they do it because they love it, passion and deep emotion that comes across in their music. A truly phenomenal band to see live.