Review and Photos by Andy ArgyrakisThe almighty hype machine has been grinding the gears overtime as ethereal Iceland rockers Sigur Ros return to America this month in support of their follow-up to Agaetis Byrjun. Equally difficult to pronounce (literally a pair of unassuming parenthesis) and even more abstract in nature, this recently released record being supported on the tour houses eight untitled tracks. It's the latest in the ever so popular syndrome of being experimental just for the sake of being experimental and keeping an indie mentality of not conforming to the mainstream industry's accessibility level (such as having actual song and album titles, melodies, or words in English) all while paradoxically releasing a product under a major label corporate conglomerate.
Taking nods from Radiohead's Kid A and Amnesiac era, Sigur Ros' compositions on ( ) are affluent and elaborate, but at times they're guilty of sounding overly grandiose. The Sigur Ros concert experience boasts similarly cerebral nuances, along with a four piece string section called Amina, who proved to be the show's saving grace on more than one occasion. The moments when Sigur Ros and the string section collaborated for majestic, dreamy drama were certainly much more stimulating than Jón Pór Birgisson's series of manta-like Icelandic chants, Georg Holm's spurts of bass playing with a drum stick, and the group's excessive mulling about a handful of chords, rehashing them in a swirling sequence nearly as long as a tripped out jam band.
Had I been high, maybe I would have gotten down with the extended displays of such "artistry," but instead, like many of those viewing from the balcony, I found myself nodding off during such showy streaks. (At least every time we awoke from that hypnotic trance, Sigur Ros was there to provide some delightful background music while we caught our bearings). Everything from the lush crescendos of "Intro" to the rich soundscapes of "Svefn G Englar" and "Ny Batteri" to the heavily orchestrated new material truly gave off a peaceful vibe, and for once at a Riviera show, filled the air with serenity rather than cigarette smoke.
However, aside from being part of that "atmosphere" (which also included a modest light show and even less striking visual imagery) I can't justify the need to see Sigur Ros in concert if you already own their records. Unlike most live shows where a band feeds off the crowd's energy, short spurts of polite clapping immediately following each song were followed by dead silence until the group was ready to start their next selection, almost perpetuating an elitist mentality. Call me journalistically blasphemous for not issuing overwhelming acclaim to the media's latest critical darling, but after seeing Sigur Ros perform live, they truly walk a fine line between kitsch and class, (or beauty and boredom in the case of all us sleepers).
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