Icelanders melt brains

By Nasia Anam

Last Thursday as I stepped into the Vic, I was expecting a good concert, nay, a great concert. I was not, however, expecting all of my internal organs to spill out of my heels and to feel my brain implode. Sigur Rós is not a mere band, but the pure manifestation of beauty.

The quartet originates from Iceland, breeding ground of sonic pioneers, aural gods, a veritable Mount Olympus of modern music. Sigur Rós recorded their debut, Von, in 1997, and their second album in 2000, a record that makes you feel like you never need to hear any other sound again. They are the definition of ambient rock; they recorded their last album next to an empty cement pool to perfect their spacious acoustics.

But none of this was in my mind as I leaned against the stage, watching in writhing anticipation as the band made their way across and picked up their instruments, singer Jonsi positioned just in front of me. They hit the first note and all my surroundings disappeared. In the world, there only existed two entities. Sigur Rós and me. No, actually, Jonsi and me. From this point on, this article is a confession of love for Jonsi.

I watched him, unblinkingly, as he tenderly plucked the strings of his red guitar, oblivious to the audience, never looking up, only watching his own fingers make their journey across the instrument, a look of wonder on his face. The keyboard, the drum set, the bass guitar, and Jonsi’s own lead guitar melted into each other, forming a liquid that seeped across the walls to surround the audience in sound. Was I standing? Was I sitting? Was I awake or dreaming? I had lost all sense of reality, all of my senses became one conglomerate Sense — I heard, saw, felt, tasted, smelled the music…was this even music? This was beyond music. This was gorgeousness. They finished the song, and I could barely clap, I could not will myself out of the stupor that is Sigur Rós.

As they began the next song, Jonsi removed his trademark bow from the microphone stand and placed it across his guitar. The notes began, and he dragged it across the strings like he was stitching a wound. Jonsi, Jonsi, I have never seen such a look of pleasure-pain as I saw on your face. But then (could it get any better? Yes, it could) he lifted his head, opened his throat, and poured out a voice like sky. Tears stung my eyes, my legs felt weak.

Song after song, Jonsi plus band made me feel less and less aware of my own self and my only occupation became witnessing this concert, this event, this ritual. Jonsi’s muscles tensed, the veins in his neck pulsed, his brow furrowed, his entire body became his music. His mouth, framed by child-like teeth, emitted such clarity, such fortitude, such desperation, it seemed surreal. How was he doing this? He looked so small in his tiny T-shirt and miniature sneakers. Yet his voice was otherworldly; bow-ridden guitar was heavenly, and the rest of Sigur Rós, whoever they are, was good too. No, no, I’ll relent. They were amazing. The keyboard player also provided back-up vocals, matching Jonsi’s angelic falsetto with bass harmonies, the drummer’s mallet-induced grandeur laced Jonsi’s voice with a metallic sheen, and the bass guitar was a yummy garnish.

The band only played a few recognizable songs from Ágaetis Byrjun; the rest were presumably from Von and their third effort, which they are working on now. After a few intense songs, they slipped into “Olsen Olsen,” the only happy song they played all night. The sweetness of it was a welcome break in the wrenching passion of the rest of the concert. As they flitted over the song Jonsi’s bow danced across his guitar and he watched as a smile crept over his petite face. Jonsi, you can smile? His voice gently undulated as he placed his lips close to the microphone. The ever-talented keyboard player pulled out a flute and played the simple melody of the song, evoking sunrise and buttered toast.

They continued on in a fervor, Jonsi’s voice pulsing through my veins. A few songs were more “rockin'” than others, feeling almost like Mogwai in their pounding riffs and crescendos. The next song off Ágaetis Byrjun was the heavy, melancholy “Ny Batterí.” Gone was any sign of a major chord, and the band reveled in maudlin harmonies. Yet their sound never tired, never faded, only got stronger and stronger.

Finally, the note I had been waiting to hear, the one sound that I had anticipated all night slipped into my ear. The first note, the crackling bell of “Svefn-G-Englar,” Sigur Rós’ adopted anthem, started me shivering. Here came the almost unbearable string-wail of the guitar, and here, finally, was Jonsi singing in his unintelligible lyrics, the song that sent every particle in the room vibrating with ecstasy. His falsetto felt like love, and I was smitten. The watery guitars, the tender harmonies, the reverberating single note that repeated throughout the song, all sounded better than they ever had on my paltry stereo. This is living.

The next two songs were the last ones of the night, when Jonsi played with his forehead resting on the mic like he was channeling some music spirit. As they finished and stepped off the stage, we cheered and clapped until we were hoarse and our hands were red. And the four Icelandic boys came out after an eternity, joined hands, and took a bow — painfully charming. They left the stage and we clapped harder, and they came out again, smiling and perplexed, bowed again and disappeared.