In the interest of full disclosure, Sigur RГіs occupies a spot on my musical Mount Rushmore.
If you told me a decade or so ago thatВ Sigur RГіs would play a show in Birmingham on a Friday night, I would”ve laughed in your face. Shows of this caliber didn”t come to Birmingham. They went to Atlanta, Nashville, or New Orleans. The fact that a band singing in Icelandic could sell out anywhere in the US was nothing short of miraculous, especially when you considered the fact that the songs are often quite long by pop music standards and frequently don”t adhere to standard verse-chorus-verse structure. And yet, here they were, coming to the town where I”ve lived most of life. I”d get to seeВ Sigur RГіs and sleep in my own bed without having to drive several hours. Amazing.
Approaching the BJCC on Friday night about 7:30 p.m., it was obvious why these kinds of shows don”t come here, because nobody goes to them even if they do come to town. We were able to snag a parking spot on the street a block away and it looked like a ghost town walking up the stairs to the “Magic City Theatre,” which was nothing more than a partitioned off portion of the basketball arena. There couldn”t have been much more than 1,000 people there if it hit 1,000 at all. That being said, Reykjavik”s favorite sons didn”t mail it in or put forth any less effort than they did the Friday night before in Nashville when I saw them in a more or less full 2,500-capacity venue.
Though the crowd was small, it was rapt with attention as the band launched its 100 minute set with the fairly quiet “YfirborГ°,” which gave way into the exploding low-end rattle of “Brennisteinn,” the lead single from their new album Kveikur. “Vaka” (or “Untitled 1”) from the ( ) recordВ (the untitled album most people call “parantheses” because of its cover)В brought out the first major cheers of the night as the band dipped into its extensive back catalog. Lead singer and guitarist JГіnsi”s vocals soared all over the somber track.
The core ofВ Sigur RГіs is now singer/guitarist JГіnsi, bassist Georg HГіlmВ and drummerВ Orri PГЎll DГЅrason. Live though, they”re backed by a three piece string section, a three piece horn section and two multi-instrumentalists that tackled everything from piano to guitar to percussion and more (all eight backing musicians sang as well.) Their ability to play a host of different instruments and all sing at times makes them sound more like a small orchestra with a choir rather than a rock band. 11 people is a lot on stage, but they frequently sounded like 20 at times due to their versatility.
The band played over half of the nine tracks on Kveikur (their first after the departure of longtime keyboardistВ Kjartan Sveinsson)В but the songs held their own with older material, particularly “Brennisteinn,” “Kveikur” and “Hrafntinna” which could all go on to become staple parts of the band”s concert repertoire. The soaring strings, warm brass and clanging percussion of “Hrafntinna” in particular hearken back to what made so many people fall in love withВ Sigur RГіs in the first place.
“VarГєГ°” from 2012″sВ ValtariВ has quickly become a crowd favorite too with its slow build from glacial pace to exploding supernova. 2005″s Takk… was the band”s other main focal point of the evening, playing four tracks from it including perennial favorites like “GlГіsГіli,” “HoppГpolla,” and “SГ¦glГіpur.”
The band eschewed the pretense of walking off stage for an encore and played the lengthy “Festival” from 2008″sВ MeГ° suГ° Г eyrum viГ° spilum endalaustВ before launching into their piГЁce de rГ©sistance, the epic 15 minute “PopplagiГ°,” which typically serves as their show closer. By the climatic end of “PopplagiГ°” the entire crowd was on its feet cheering frenziedly at what I consider to seriously be the best closing song going in music at present. The band briefly left the stage before reappearing to take a bow. The giant video screens behind them lit up with the world TAKK, which means “Thanks” in Icelandic. Considering it”s unlikely they”ll ever roll into Birmingham again, I feel like we should”ve unfurled a Takk banner from the upper deck when they finished.
After the show, the people that rode to the concert with me INSISTED on going home, so I dropped them both off, but didn”t feel like calling it a night. I figured I”d go grab some BBQ from Saw”s Soul Kitchen in Avondale before heading home for good. I saw a tweet from al.com writer Jeremy Burgess saying it was rumored the band was at Bottletree hanging out. I was a few blocks away and decided to pop over and see if it was true. Not long after midnight, I spotted bassist Georg HГіlmВ on the porch and tweeted “Good lord y”all, Sigur Ros is at @bottletreecafe.” The band hung around having a few drinks and then Jonsi and a few of the backing musicians went to the soundbooth and performed a lengthy DJ set that included everything from dubstep to the Beastie Boys. HГіlmВ and Orri PГЎll DГЅrasonВ mingled among the crowd dancing and having a few drinks. An unexpected, but incredible addition of late night fun to an already amazing evening.
Editor”s Note: Below are some images of the show taken for us by David A Smith. You can see more of his photos of this show and others here.