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Thursday, 03 October 2013 14:58

Concert review and set list: Sigur Rós raises spirits through sound at the Fox Theatre, Tuesday, October 1

Sigur Rós at the Fabulous Fox Sigur Rós at the Fabulous Fox Dustin Winter
Written by Brian Benton
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My first time seeing Sigur Rós play came in Golden Gate Park, squeezed into a festival crowd of maybe 15,000 as rain slowly pushed its way through the San Francisco fog and over captivated faces.

I remember, as I left, hearing someone say that the show felt "like going to church," and it did. At that moment, I did not know how any future Sigur Rós show, or truly any other future concert, could compare.

On October 1, Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós played the Fabulous Fox Theatre, an indoor, seated venue that holds 4,500 when full, which it mostly was. I initially questioned the space, wondering how such an ethereal show would fit in this formal venue. But as words began to spill out of Jónsi Birgisson's mouth and orange and purple lights poured onto the theatre's Byzantine walls, I realized the venue would work just fine. In fact, it is probably one of few spaces that could complement Sigur Rós' beauty, and not be overpowered by it.

Sigur Rós' three longtime members took center stage, with three brass players and three string players in the back, all doubling as members of a chorus, and a keyboardist and guitarist as bookends. "Yfirborð" and "Brennisteinn" came first, with great contrast between the tender, smooth sound of the first and the bigger, darker, more hard rock sound of the latter. Both tracks, as well as a handful more played during the 14-song set, come from Sigur Rós' June release "Kveikur," although the setlist included works from many points in the band's 16-year history.

On stage, the 11 musicians stood below a long screen that displayed visuals of clutching hands, exploding cars and floating children. The video played above Sigur Rós, and although saturated lights merged the two together, they stood as two separate elements to the show, as opposed to the visuals acting as a backdrop to the live band. Sometimes, the lights would adjust to turn the band into scarecrow-like silhouettes and the screen would become the focus.

At those points, Sigur Rós almost became the soundtrack to the beautiful images, like the pit orchestra at an old-time movie theatre, just like the Fox used to be. In these moments, and throughout the night, Birgisson would sometimes hunch over his electric guitar and the bow he uses to play it with would glide up and down like a pump. Then, the lights would adjust back, and you would refocus on the musicians, because their swooping movements appeared even more beautiful to watch than the elusive imagery.

Because Sigur Rós' lyrics are in Icelandic and "Hopelandic" (a language invented by Birgisson that acts more as an additional instrument than as words), making singing along difficult to impossible. When Birgisson sang, brooding yet calm, it was to the crowd, not with the crowd. His vocals became more powerful and omnipresent, and the show was transformed into more of a moment between the band and the audience, with each member of the crowd becoming a transfixed individual. During "Festival," which Birigison performed solo as the screen above him became a galaxy of stars, a note lasted 30 or 40 seconds and, near the end, the room became focused and so quiet that you could hear the crackle and buzz of the amplifiers.

A similar moment occurred a few songs earlier during "Með Blóðnasir," the most harmonious song of Sigur Rós' set. As percussionist Orri Páll Dýrason led with a decisive, staccato beat, Birgisson put guitar down and began to lift his lanky arms. The tassles hanging from the sleeves of his military style coat dangled down like tendrils, and as Birgisson's arms grew higher and the drumming, horns and stringed whirs grew more impassioned, the audience rose for the first time of the night. At that moment, it truly felt like church, with Birgisson the pastor, sharing a sermon so powerful it brought 4,500 spellbound and illuminated congregants to their feet in applause.

The final song of the night was "Popplagið," a 16-minute voyage that peaks with a Georg Hólm bass solo before the remaining 10 members bring the song to a roaring finish. Sigur Rós left without an encore, and when "Popplagið" ended, the Fox Theatre lights came up and the band members slipped backstage. The crowd gave a much-deserved standing ovation.

This time seeing Sigur Rós the only raindrops I got came in the form of a moment of video with miniature figures falling from the sky, or maybe being elevated back up to it and the only fog came from two machines on full blast. It made me realize though that what I experienced did not just feel magical because of the environment, although the Fox Theatre is a magical place, but because of the way Sigur Rós connects with an audience without words that we understand.

Aside from translations of Sigur Rós lyrics I have looked up before and the quick instant where Bergisson spoke English to thank the crowd for coming, the one word of the night I understood was "takk," which means "thank you" in Icelandic. It appeared on the screen as Sigur Rós returned to the stage for celebratory bows. But the show still spoke to me, and as I left the beautiful Fox Theatre, the smiles on the faces of everyone around me suggested that it spoke to most other members of the audience, too, probably in a different way for each of us.

Setlist:

Yfirborð
Brennisteinn

Vaka
Glósóli

Hrafntinna

Stormur

Sæglópur

Varúð

Hoppípolla

Með Blóðnasir

Rafstraumur

Kveikur

Festival

Popplagið

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