WORDS: Brett Fillmore
During their two-night Vancouver residency, Sigur Ros showed why they continue to represent the possibilities of ambient, ethereal, cathartic rock music.
Fringe bands from the mid-90s like Talk Talk, Tortoise, and Slint laid the groundwork for what would later (often begrudgingly) be called post-rock. By the early 00s, bands like Montreal’s Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Glasgow’s Mogwai, and Austin’s Explosions in the Sky had cemented the post-rock sound in North-American consciousness; leading the rise was Reykavik’s Sigur Ros, whose swirling, sparkling compositions were the cornerstone of the faction’s evolution.
Once they released 2005’s Takk…, Sigur Ros’ peripheral style had become borderline mainstream as filmmakers realized the extraordinary soundtrack potential of the music. And, like so many rock movements before it, as the music’s commercial appeal grew it began to lose its unique charm, its critical praise, and perhaps even its inspiring influence.
Post-rock may have peaked, but it hasn’t gone away, as evident by the innovative approaches of newcomers like Russian Circles and 65daysofstatic. All the while, Sigur Ros have stood tall as the flag bearer of what post-rock could be and achieve. As they descended into Vancouver for the very first night of a world tour, they did so as elder statesmen of a musical movement.
The setlist was very light on the band’s most recent work (2012’s Valtari and 2013’s Kveikur), and heavy on the most prominent albums of their career (Agætis Byrjun, ( ), and Takk…). In a statement on their website, the band explained that on this tour the aim would be to recreate for fans the moments they discovered the band’s emotive power:
“In addition to playing songs you know, we wanted to remember the seat-of-your-pants feeling experienced in the wake of, ágætis byrjun, when for two years we formed and re-formed the songs that would go on to be the ( ) album, live in front of people, night after night.”
They took the stage as an original trio, without longtime member Kjarri Sveinsson or the brass and string ensemble that accompanies many of their live performances. This in no way lessened the magnitude of the sonic layers that entwine their songs, and all the quintessential elements of the band were exhibited in full: Jonsi’s soaring falsetto, guitar played with a cello bow, songs sung in the fictional tongue of Hopelandic, and most of all the vertiginous crescendos. Sigur Ros’ music still gloriously achieves what it is designed to do: to affect, to evoke. Even after all these years, songs first record on ( ) felt powerful to the extent that it was impossible to avoid an emotional response.
Housed in the gorgeous Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Sigur Ros’ stirring performance elegantly displayed not only why their kind of ethereal rock was so powerful, but also its current state of performance. The show was a multi-media spectacle. The stage was dimly lit and decked with several constantly shifting layers of unseen mesh screens—several behind the band, but also between members and, incredibly, in front of the band. A breathtaking blend of lights and projected images moved across, between, and amongst all aspects of the stage, giving the sense that the band members were performing from within a different dreamlike environment with every song.
Everything about the evening was about creating an atmosphere. There was no opening band, and the night consisted of two massive sets separated by an intermission. None of the members spoke at any time, and there was no encore. On this night, as with their entire career, Sigur Ros let the music speak for itself.