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May 12, 2006

Sigur Rós brings unique mix of Icelandic and gibberish to Civic Opera House

Yuuuuuuuu eeeeaaaaaayuuuuoooooo aaaaasassssssuuuuuuuuu

On second thought, writing this article in “Hopelandic” may prove more difficult than I first thought. If I want to give a favorable review to Sigur Rós’s concert Tuesday night, then using a nonsensical language vaguely resembling both Icelandic and gibberish may not be the best point of departure. (Hopelandic is the brainchild of Jónsi Birgisson, lead singer and guitarist of Icelandic quartet Sigur Rós.)

Sigur Rós blends unquestioned brilliance with unapologetic self-indulgence. On May 9, the band performed at Chicago’s lavish Civic Opera House. An opera house perfectly fits the music of this group from the streets of Reykjavik, Iceland, rounded out by bassist Goggi Holm, keyboardist Kjarri Sveinsson, and drummer Pall Dyrason.

Before Sigur Rós could captivate the audience, the opening act chose a different, yet most likely inadvertent, path: They put us to sleep. I sat in the very last row of the opera house. (I survived the nosebleed section with my concert sidekick, Augie.) The only thing we could tell about the first act was their number and gender—four women, to be exact. Their indecipherable foreign accents left us in a cloud of mystery. If I had to pick a genre for this anonymous quartet, “napping” says it all.

After a brief gap between sets, Sigur Rós took the stage around 8:30 p.m. The first song started with the entire band behind a screen. Puzzling images were projected on the screen along with colorful lights. When the song ended, the screen lifted to reveal the band.

The Icelandic quartet held the audience in constant amazement throughout the performance. The Civic Opera House’s capacity of 3,600 was nearly attained on May 9. That fact alone is amazing, considering Sigur Rós’s brand of music. If you have never heard them, you must imagine musical ingenuity coupled with long and powerful songs. Birgisson’s singing relies on one’s visceral reaction to sound. He moves seamlessly from songs in the nonsensical Hopelandic to the actual Icelandic. In my opinion, not understanding Icelandic is actually crucial to understanding Sigur Rós’s music. Linguistic ignorance highlights the raw and natural.

The songs came from each of their albums: Von, Ágætis Byrun, (), and Takk…, their autumn 2005 release. By sitting so far from the stage, we were able to internalize and decipher their show through constant sensory bombardment. Despite my knowledge of Sigur Rós, it was extremely difficult to figure out exactly which songs were being played. Perhaps that’s the point. An array of lights and sounds during the show gave the audience a unique insight into this unique band. Sigur Rós perfectly integrates sounds and images in their shows.

Categorized as post-rock, Sigur Rós stretches the limits of contemporary music. The music can only be appreciated when in a specific mood. While the music may indeed hypnotize, for me, their sound is epic. Taking a page out of the rock ’n’ roll handbook, Birgisson plays electric guitar with a cello bow. Instantly, I thought of Jimmy Page’s infamous violin-bow guitar technique. Despite possessing all the trappings of true post-rock, Sigur Rós, like countless bands before and since, cannot shake the unparalleled influence of Led Zeppelin.

As the concert drew to a close, a remarkable thing happened. During a long song, all of the band members stopped playing and held the audience in utter silence for over half a minute. Eventually, the fans broke the silence by yelling and clapping—only to hear the song continue precisely where it had left off. Augie referred to it as the “most amazing thing I have ever seen at a concert.” I second that.

A 25-minute encore added to a set lasting nearly two hours. I do not think I will be able to go to another Sigur Rós concert for a while, though—but not because they were bad. On the contrary, they were excellent, but their excellence comes with a price: downright exhaustion.

Since I am at a loss for words as to how to summarize the experience, I shall follow Jónsi Birgisson’s lead and make up my own words. Uuurrrr uuuuuuwwwww wwwwsaaaaaooooo oooouuu uuuyeeeeeeee oooosssoooo