The stage is hidden by a white scrim on all four sides – the audience is restless. We’ve been waiting for almost an hour, expecting opening acts which never materialized.
Finally the lights go out – except for the ones onstage. The curtain becomes a screen, dizzying abstract shapes floating around as the music starts. Sigur Rós’ frontman, Jónsi Birgisson, begins with Yfirborð, immediately crashing his bow down on the guitar in his signature style. The curtain is still up, but now things are taking a distinctly different turn – the shapes are still barely intelligible, but there is the unmistakable feeling that we are witnessing art as they move, synchronized with the music. Circles and close-ups of iron filings and things moving in liquid mingle with definite human movement in a bizarre and beautiful dance.
A few songs in, at the beginning of a drum crescendo, the scrim finally drops and the audience cheers for the unveiled band – lit only by strategically placed bare bulbs, which float like stars on the otherwise murky stage. The images move to an enormous screen behind them, playing out stories in dreamscapes and dream shapes, loves lost and won as the music moves up and down. The words in Sigur Rós’ music do not matter as much as the feeling, and there is a lot of feeling here.
The lighting moves with the band and the visuals as well – during long sequences of drumming, the lights flash along with Orri Páll Dýrason’s drumsticks. The violins sing in the background and Georg Hólm’s bass plays with Jónsi’s bowed guitar and ethereal falsetto which he maintains for the entire hour-and-a-half duration of the concert. The lyrics are almost unintelligible the audience – most are in Hopelandic, the non-literal language Sigur Rós uses when not singing in Icelandic. It isn’t about the lyrics, but rather about the pure sound.
Despite this lack of literal understanding, people in the audience are often visibly moved by the music – they are wiping their eyes with looks of rapture on their faces. Looking around, I would even have gone so far as to say that people were having a spiritual experience.
Sigur Rós’ music, both new (Valtari) and old (Ágætis byrjun), has always been some strange fusion of the idea of visual art and musical art – post-rock ambient sounds join with a perfect visual accompaniment that looks like what I would imagine the inside of Kandinsky’s brain did. People who enjoy things like it will be affected by the experience – and it does deserve the word “experience” – while others will simply not understand. The metaphorical Church of Sigur Rós is about appreciating a very specific kind of beauty, and the concert in Boston was the most ideal demonstration of it they could have made. If strong, wonderful progressive rock is your thing, I suggest you go buy yourself a ticket to their next show – you won’t regret it.