Saturday, 16 March 2013

Sigur Rós - how to make three thousand souls smile in unison

Sigur Rós, Live at Wolverhampton Civic Hall

Tuesday 5th March, 2013

I knew my nephew Tom was a fellow admirer of the Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós so, when I tentatively suggested we should go to this gig, the response was predictable:  ‘I imagine,’ he emailed me back, ‘after  seeing them, we will scoff at ever debating whether we should have or not.’ Sometimes, the way Tom expresses himself, I think he might actually be GK Chesterton. And so it was that Tom, his affable friend Joseph and I found ourselves waiting for Sigur Rós while the support act – Blanck Mass -- got the crowd into a suitably hypnagogic state. 

When the light show projected white circles across the back of the stage, Tom observed that the Mysterons had arrived. This reference to the 1967 TV series Captain Scarlet had me looking out for the sinister Captain Black. I have to say, there were quite a few contenders in the crowd but, as Joseph pointed out, surprisingly few jumper-wearers considering this was a Sigur Rós concert.

Finally, Blanck Mass ended, and Sigur Rós began to play behind a gauze curtain which only dropped away at the climax of the third song. (Is this what they call in theatre-land a scrim curtain? I'll have to ask another of my nephews, Tim -- a lighting engineer -- about that one.) 

The eerie use of lighting cast giant shadows of singer-guitarist Jónsi Birgisson as he played electric guitar with a cello bow. Stooped in concentration, bowing his guitar, the giant shadows appeared, at times, to be projections of a headless frontman. Visually, the show was astounding, with its clever combination of back-projected film and countless standard lamps on stage, sometimes streetlights in fairyland, sometimes beacons answering the strange flashes of maritime lights playing on the backdrop. The sounds emanating from the stage were as extraordinary as the visual effects, and it was remarkable that everything, from the quietest tinkle of glockenspiel and toy piano to the loudest crescendo of guitar, drums, bass, strings and brass playing together was audible and undistorted, testimony to great sound engineering combined with impeccable musicianship. Sigur Rós‘s music, whether at its gentlest or most searingly dramatic, is transcendentally beautiful and, at certain moments, there appeared to be two or three thousand souls smiling at once. At the end of the show, the musicians lined up to take a bow, as if at the end of delightful, otherworldly pantomime.

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Tony Gillam is Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing at the University of Wolverhampton, a freelance writer, trainer and musician. He is the author of 'Reflections on Community Psychiatric Nursing' (2002) and 'Creativity, Wellbeing and Mental Health Practice' (2018).