Monday, August 11, 2008

Saturday Night Icelandic Pixie Confetti Party

I said they were probably going to suck. I was wrong. I must admit, there was a bit of disingenuousness in that statement, chiefly for the purpose of deliberately keeping my expectations low. I was sceptical of just how engaging a band this twee and mellow could be in a live setting and also I was hesitant because it was at the Hordern Pavilion, a venue which has an inexplicable habit of hosting concerts that disappoint me. Luckily this time around my misgivings were unwarranted on both counts.

The openers, Pivot, were playing as I arrived. This three piece (local to Sydney) has a unique style which layers glitchy electronica in the vein of Autechre (but less avant garde and more catchy) over live drums and guitar. They're a little hard to describe in more detail than that off of a single listen, partly because they traversed a range of moods even in the single half set I saw. However I can happily report that they were a pretty decent live act, with loads of energy and confidence.


As for Sigur Ros themselves, here's the setlist:

Se Lest
Ny Batteri
Vid Spilum Endalaust
Med Blodnasir
Inni Mer Syngur

Untitled #8

All Alright

I stole this list from the comments to the concerts page, as I have little chance of actually remembering it on my own considering that both the length of Sigur Ros' songs and the fact that the titles are in a language I don't understand mean that I've never been too good at remembering which one was which anyway.

As you may or may not be able to tell, the song selection is fairly evenly divided between tracks from the new album, their previous one (Takk...) and their classic Agaetis Byrjun. Despite my misgivings about the new record those songs fitted in pretty well to the set. I must admit that several times I found myself thinking “I'm pretty sure this is a new song, but I'm really enjoying it... maybe it's actually an old one...”

As performers the band were as laid back and as twee as their music. Frontman Jonsi Birgisson, despite being a towering nordic giant, sounds like a pixie with his heavily accented, elfin English. The renditions of the songs were a little too similar to the album for my liking, but were performed with soul and plenty of gusto on the louder parts, especially those exuberantly stompy drums. Birgisson's extended coos (extended as in, 'going on for ages') should be mentioned too as an unexpected bit of showiness/showmanship from a band with such a reserved image.

It was cool to go to a concert where for a change at least half of it was about feeling nice instead of being goaded into an hour long frenzy. It actually took a bit of adjusting to but it turns out that nodding your head and smiling is actually also a fun way to appreciate live music. Mind you that was only half the performance, the rest was big stompy energetic fun even though you wouldn't know it to look at my fellow concertgoers, most of whom seemed to find even nodding their heads to be beneath their dignity. Fucking indie kids are probably scared of messing up their hair or losing their brightly coloured dark sunglasses.

The only lowlight of the set was 'Festival', my least favourite track from the new album, and one that was elevated in the live setting from 'too long and dead fucking boring' to 'too long and still pretty boring'. Fortunately there were plenty of great songs to compensate. The bombast and hooky piano riffs of Takk...'s two big anthems 'Glosoli' and 'Saeglopur' went down very well and the brass band marching onstage during 'Se Lest' was a highlight too. I was also really impressed by the absolute quiet during the final minutes of the opener ('Svefn-G-Englar'), even if the audience was unemotive they were still clearly enraptured. Closing out the main set with the new single 'Gobbledigook' was a great decision, I'm not all that fond of the track on the album but with everyone clapping along and glitter and confetti being fired everywhere, it was a sweet moment, one where I could almost completely by into Sigur Ros' tweeness.

The only track from () was the first encore, predictably enough 'Untitled #8' (or 'The Pop Song') (by far the scariest thing Sigur Ros have ever recorded). As expected given the fact that their music has moved in a very different direction since that album they didn't reach the same anger and intensity as the recorded version but it was still nice and loud and an epic way to finish out the concert.

Or not quite. After rapturous applause the band returned to leave us with the very mellow, sweet 'All Alright', which appropriately provided much less of a downer to end off a night that was mostly ridiculously upbeat.

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