Everytime I read about Icelandic post-rock group Sigur Ros, the one word that is consistently used to describe their music is “ethereal.” I love this word. Defined as “extremely delicate and light in a way that seems too perfect for this world,” it really is a perfect way to describe their sound. Currently on a world tour, Sigur Ros made their last stop at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia Oct. 8.
Without any supporting act, Sigur Ros took the stage around 8:30 p.m. and kicked off the show with the ambient opener, “A,” before tearing into the classic “Ekki Mukk.” Oh yes, get ready because all their songs titles are in Icelandic. The lyrics of most Sigur Ros songs are also sung in Icelandic, but some are written in “Hopelandic,” which is a made-up gibberish language created by lead singer Jonsi. Their 2002 album “( )” was composed entirely with Hopelandic lyrics.
The thing that initially caught me off guard when they appeared onstage was that there are only three members. I had no idea Sigur Ros was a trio! Their sound is so dense and powerful that I figured there had to be at least five musicians onstage. I was happily proven wrong as I watched the band masterfully replicate their dark, beautiful music. Jonsi’s trademark use of a bow on his electric guitar created the atmospheric ambience that can be heard on their albums and it was incredible to see live.
Sigur Ros is the kind of music that I would expect to be popular with some alien race from another planet. Jonsi sings mostly in echoey falsetto, which paired with the bowed guitars creates an eerie, foreign atmosphere. It’s truly a spectacle to experience in a live setting, where the dynamics and explosive climaxes are able to flourish.
After an intense performance of “Smaskifa,” Sigur Ros exited the stage for a brief intermission. Upon returning for their second act, the band set up behind a large screen and played several songs in a more stripped down fashion. Among these included the new “Oveour” and one of my personal favorites, “Staralfur.”
The second act went much like the first, only there were several more fan favorites (such as “Vaka” and “Kveikur”). Hearing a lot of their songs back to back, they sort of begin to blend together in my mind; without any discernable lyrics, it’s difficult to differentiate between one song and the next. Most of their songs start out quiet and calm and over the course of four or five minutes eventually build to explosive climaxes. The music is powerful and moving, but after a long period of time, it becomes exhausting (in the same vein of how watching long, emotional movies like “Schindler’s List” is exhausting). The intermission between sets was a good call.
The last song of the night, “Popplagio,” was by far the most intense. Clocking in at just under 12 minutes, the song is a real trip. The last few minutes of the song are wild: Jonsi is screaming at the top of his lungs while the drummer is pounding away urgently like the heart of a refugee on the lam — all the while the lights guy was trying his hardest to give someone an epileptic seizure.
Sigur Ros is a great band. Their live act was a very enjoyable time, but the one thing that felt weird to me were the vibes. The band did make a nice fit in the beautiful, historic Academy of Music theater, but it didn’t feel much like a rock concert. The audience was full of older folks, mostly people who have been fans for about 20 years. The fact that it was a seated event took something away from the energy of the performance, and especially the energy of the crowd. I think Sigur Ros would fit most perfectly in the lineup of a huge music festival, playing after midnight to a crowd of exhausted, yet wired, young concertgoers.