Concert Review: Sigur Rós (May 6, 2001, Chicago, IL)

This was a concert that had a real sense of honesty and purity of intent about it, the way it should always be.

I literally felt like I went through hell to get to this concert. After a week at work that I don’t really care to repeat anytime soon, there was nothing more I wanted then to make the journey to Chicago to catch one of the most-hyped bands in recent memory: Iceland’s own Sigur Rós. I’ll spare you the details of the trip to Chicago, lest this become like my Cornerstone 2000 diary. Suffice to say that it was very rainy and I don’t think I’ll ever get used to driving Chicago’s serpentine streets. We made it, and that was all that mattered.

Going into the show, I was somewhat skeptical. I’ve listened to Sigur Rós a great deal, and I love their music, but I had to wonder just how much of their music’s effect was due to studio trickery. The sheer amount of depth contained within their music seemed impossible to pull off live. Boy, was I wrong. The band took the stage at 8:00, and began building a wall of sound consisting primarily of frontman Jonsi Birgisson’s bowed guitar. Slowly, the first notes of “Ný batterí” filled the room. Slowly, it began to dawn on me just how immense and special this show was to become.

About half of the setlist consisted of songs off of Ágætis byrjun and its related singles, Svefn-g-englar and Ný batterí. The rest was all material I was fairly unfamiliar with, and I assume material slated for their new album. From the third song on, they were joined by a string quartet, which upped the music’s beauty quotient considerably. The real treat, however, was when Icelandic poet/singer Steindór Andersen joined the band for two songs. Other concert reviews have compared his vocals to those of Brendan Perry (Dead Can Dance), and that’s not too far off the mark. Compared to Birgisson’s angelic voice, Andersen’s deep, craggy vocals provided an earthy, somehow more ancient dimension to the evening.

Many reviews of Sigur Rós’ concerts comment on how emotional they are. While I didn’t collapse into a weeping wreck at any point, I think I came close. I wanted to cry for all of my friends who couldn’t be there, experiencing what I was experiencing. I wanted them to know what it’s like to have a song fill up all of the empty spaces inside you until you’re fit to burst. I wanted to cry because I needed to be reminded, yet again, of just what music can and should do. How many times do I have to be reminded of this, that music should make people feel this way? How many times have I tried to make it into something it’s not?

Looking back, there is one thought that keeps coming to mind. And call this whatever you want; lack of objectivity, gushing, or journalistic wankery. But I think Sigur Rós sees music the way I want to see it. For them, music isn’t about albums, tours, interviews, or reviews full of adjectives for “heavenly.” It’s an essential part of their existence, like eating or breathing. The result was a concert that had a real sense of honesty and purity of intent about it, the way it should always be. And it took a band that sings in their own, imaginary language to explain that to me yet again.

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