Story and photos by Matt SchwenkeAs was the sunset that bathed Madison Friday night, Sigur Rós' performance at the Orpheum Theatre was simply beautiful. Touring in support of their fourth album Takk, which translates to "thanks," the band from Iceland entranced most of the crowd with often-indecipherable lyrics, dramatic movements in song, and a stellar mix of lights and film. The band opened with the title track from the new album behind a thin curtain, on which their shadows shifted to other-worldly sounds. As the curtain drew open, four modestly dressed musicians stood amongst a host of instruments, pedals and cords, and frontman Jón Thor Birgission stood doused in a single light from the front of the stage. The effect produced a 20-foot tall shadow of Birgission playing his guitar with a bow on the backdrop of the stage. The music had a similar effect as the simple beginnings of "n batterí" and "svefn-g-englar" expanded so wide they seemed to push the walls of the theatre outward. Another striking image came at the end of "svefn-g-englar" as Birgission sang the chorus line into the pickups of his guitar.
After taking the crowd through some more new songs, such as the piano montage of "séglópur" or the driving strings provided by AnimA in "gong," the music began to breathe on its own before an abrupt stop in "virar vel til loftárasá." As seconds passed by in what felt like an eternity, the band stood frozen as the effects faded out. Though some needed a reality check and had to let out a "whoo-hoo" just to make sure they were still there, almost absolute silence struck deep in the song that translates to "a good day for airstrikes" before the band all came back in right-on-- seemingly without cue.
Keeping the intensity, a revamped version of "hafssól" from the band's first release featured bassist Georg Hólm using a drum stick to create a catchy bassline. As the song progressed, keys player Kjartan Sveinsson and drummer Orri Páll Drason helped push the song into a frenzied clock-work of sound that ended with Birgission having a cathartic moment with bow on guitar. After a standing ovation, "smáskífa" led to Drason alone on stage at a piano as birds gathered on a wire on the backdrop. Leaving the stage with sound still streaming, the birds flew away and the set was over.
Quickly returning, light harmonies matched a drum shuffle that turned in to a tribal direction. As the band stirred a huge undercurrent of sound, the curtain drew shut and the band peaked in a spectacular fashion. The night's fantastic journey was over except for the ethereal musings still swirling in everyones' heads.
Sigur Rós Madison Setlist:
Vaka (or untitled #1)
virar vel til loftárasá
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