Sigur Rós landed at the Hollywood Bowl Saturday night–and then blasted off repeatedly–during their first show in Los Angeles proper in more than four years. Their palette remains not only otherworldly, but from a world of its own. This intergalactic theme ran deep throughout the evening, starting with an homage opening set of four Sigur Rós pieces played by the International Space Orchestra (ISO), led by conductor Gordon Lustig.
Appearing in space-ready jumpsuits, the ISO is “the world’s first orchestra composed of space scientists,” many of which work for various arms of NASA, including SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Their music has been played in the International Space Station as it orbited the Earth. Heady stuff, and an unusual, tone-setting experience. Even spacesuit patches were designed for the show, in line with the tradition of patches being created for NASA missions.
After Sigur Rós emerged to a backing track of droned out strings, the trio quickly settled in to amniotic new song “Á,” a restrained celestial battle cry. The performance would be split in to two sets, the first decidedly more meditative than the second.
Sigur Rós are masterful at playing intricately delicate passages, respecting the value of every note played by letting them ring out until the thing flat lines. “Samskeyti” (aka “Untitled #3” from 2002’s typographically named ( )) started with its recognizable circuital piano riff. Jónsi Birgisson’s vocals soon became distorted, then the lead vocalist moved to ding a glockenspiel. In “Daudalagio,” a broad wall of symmetrically arranged strobe light boxes was timed to illuminate with drum strikes from Orri Páll Dýrason. This tease of attitude served as a harbinger of intensity in the second set.
“Glósóli,” one of the band’s emotional slow roasts ascended beautifully, backed by landscape images that recall Sigur Rós’ 2007 documentary, Heima. “Glósóli” is that rare type of duplicitous song that evokes sadness as it unfolds triumphantly. Towards the crescendo, Jónsi casually stepped back from the microphone, surrendered his bow, and ripped a solo in an Icelandic rock ‘n roll moment. Glitchy new song “Óveður” began the second half, the band now caged in behind a metallic screen. While not as impressive as the nascent track “Á,” it did cement the deeper tone of the set. Following “Óveður,” Sigur Rós delivered one of the signature songs that help put them on the international map via landmark 1999 release Ágætis Byrjun.
The patient version of “Starálfur” performed was direct evidence of a band evolved. The identity of the song remained intact, but obscured by a spaced out electronic cloak, and sounding as if it was being played from a room down the hall. Aqua marine lighting and three dimensional lines running along the cage walls surrounding the band effectively placed them in a neon box for “Sæglópur,” as if they were trapped in the motherboard server itself. The evening’s stand out element, one of many, were the digital video effects used on the lead untitled track from the ( ) album. It is an unprecedented bit of magic, as bright red outlines of the band members appeared on video screens in real time. As Georg Hólm moved with his bass, his outline eventually fractured into pieces that dissipated into its own geometrical strange design, as if someone slowly blew on a digital dandelion. This is must see stuff.
Absent proficiency in Icelandic or Vonlenska, the non-literal language created by Sigur Rós sometimes referred to as “Hopelandic,” one is left to digest Jonsi’s vocals solely as an instrument. In “Festival,” he held his stratospheric falsetto firmly for almost 30 seconds, resonating like the sound created by a finger circling the rim of a glass. Following an aborted version of the industrial “Kveikur,” an audible was called for an ad hoc performance of “Hljómalind.” The final song was 2002’s “Popplagið,” also the last song of Sigur Rós LA May 2001 debut, played just across the 101 freeway at Ford Amphitheater. With a noticeably warm breeze in the air, Orri now played shirtless, Jónsi repeated a primal cry, and the various lighting structures went absolutely berserk.
In the end, the ISO gang comprised of would be (if not actual) astronauts and space scientists, came to play the music of Sigur Rós. In turn, as Sigur Rós took over the controls, they led the Bowl on a stunningly musical and visual journey. This intergalactic role reversal seemed quite a propos on a night when it appeared that there were more stars visible in the sky than our LA nights usually permit.
Sigur Rós Setlist
- Ekki Mukk
- Samskeyti (Untitled track 3 off ( ))
- E-bow (Untitled track 6 off ( ))
- Ný batterí
- Vaka (Untitled track 1 off ( ))
- Kveikur (aborted)
- Popplagið (Untitled track 8 off ( ))