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Oldies But Goldies: Sigur Ros At Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Sunday August 12th 2012

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Sigur Ros is touring again despite any recent release – their last album ‘Kveikur’ was released in 2013 – and the US will have to wait till September and October since the Icelandic band will be in Europe and Asia during most of the summer, and they are even stretching their tour to Singapore and Hong Kong in November! They are an majestic act to see live, I saw them in 2012 on the great lawn of Hollywood Forever Cemetery and I was so impressed by their performance that I am tempted to buy another ticket for their upcoming show at the Hollywood bowl, they are actually the perfect band for this place. Here is my 2012 review.

 

At one point during Sigur Ros’ concert at Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Sunday night, the music stopped completely in the middle of ‘Viðrar vel til loftárása’ (if I got it right), and Jonsi Birgisson stood mute in front of his mic for what it seems a long time – probably 10-20 seconds – and you couldn’t hear anything, the whole cemetery was totally silent. Now, I don’t know the exact capacity of the place, but the great lawn can probably contain several thousand people, and that says a lot about Sigur Ros’ fans and how they listen to the Icelandic band’s symphonic-emotional music. I had noticed how quiet people were, even before the show when they had invaded the lawn with picnic baskets, candles and blankets; they were here for the intensity of the experience and they were decided to really pay attention to it. Although there were a lot of young couples, they were not there for a romantic evening, rather everyone seemed deeply inside him or herself, living the music at a completely personal level.
And what else can you do in front of this deluge of gorgeous sounds submerged in this avalanche of multicolor lights haunted by Jonsi’ s falsetto singing incomprehensible lyrics? You have to let the emotions coming from the music make up for the lack of understanding of this strange Nordic language. But music is a language by itself, isn’t it? So who cares about what they say…

And this Sigur Ros’ concert was a stunning experience, musically and visually, as the three screens around the stage were projecting abstract, fuzzy and moving images or poetic scenes such as calming dark-green seas or enchanted glittering forests, and the lights from the top were spreading green, red, orange, white fumes, inundating the musicians on stage. There were no confetti or balloons, no that’s not the type of these Icelanders, but the ever-changing visuals around them were totally fitting their sprawling songs, and their unique sense of space, calm and fury.

Wearing some sort of military black uniform with an Indian fringe underlining his spine, Jonsi was looking like a hurt animal every time he was bending over his guitar that he was playing with his signature bow. Almost all the songs were filled with delicate melodies and cathartic eruptions, like the song opener, ‘Í Gær’, which began as if it was played on a toy keyboard before exploding in a raging thunder. If you dislike the bombastic and the grandiose, the poignant and passionate, Sigur Ros is not for you obviously.

At the end, there was a lot of this same thing, tumultuous sonic tempests, with intense lightning and an all-red background as if the stage was on fire, then slow-moving emotional-desperate parts where Jonsi was letting his vocals languishing forever, before finally bending as if he was dying, supporting humanity’s entire distress on his shoulders. So yeah, it could have become a little boring at times, during these moments when Jonsi was alone with his guitar and nothing else was going on, but it was never too long fortunately, and soon another sonic windstorm would overthrow the place.

From where I was, it was difficult to see all the musicians, but I counted eleven of them when they came back at the end to politely salute the acclaiming crowd. And so it was a large ensemble, a real orchestra with piano, a string section and a large brass section, which were highlighting Jonsi’s falsetto with pounding keys and so much emotion coming from sad strings, warm or triumphant horns, whereas the giant shadows of the horn players on the screen were dwarfing everyone else on stage.

Sigur Ros has released six albums over the course of 15 years, and, on Sunday night, they only played three songs from their 2012 album ‘Valtari’, but nobody in the crowd seemed to complain as each song was cheered up at with the same intensity. ‘We have never played in a cemetery before, said Jonsi in his thick and charming accent, ‘and it’s pretty spectacular’, in the meantime, light-like-snow was falling on the screens. May be these beautiful visuals were the keys for the songs, which may well be a sort of musical expression of typical Icelandic elements, this ice-fire dichotomy.

After leaving the stage in a chaos and Jonsi holding his head in his hands, they came back on stage for an encore of three songs, which had the same poetic imagery and some symphonic moments of extraordinary emotions, so that each song could have been the grand final. On my way home, I was thinking how Sigur Ros’ music may be deeply,…spiritual, failing to find another word. I am not a spiritual person if this means believing in some transcendence. But for me, this musical experience was a sort of deep connection with nature and to the primordial soup we all belong to.

Setlist:
· Í Gær
· Ekki Múkk
· Vaka
· Ný Batterí
· Sæglópur
· Svefn-g-englar
· Viðrar Vel Til Loftárása
· Olsen Olsen
· Hoppípolla
· Með Blóðnasir
· Festival
· Varúð
· Hafsól

· Encore:
· Dauðalogn
· Glósóli
· Popplagið

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