Sigur Ros | Paramount Theatre | Oakland, CA | 04.08.03

Sigur Ros. It seems as if this name, or this word, or band, whatever Sigur Ros is, has been following me around for the past few months, and now I couldn't forget it if I tried. There has been so much talk about this band, so much press, and so much hype I figured that if I am half the music aficionado I am attempting to be, I damn well better not miss another chance to see these Icelandic cats.

By Aisling O'neill
It turns out that Sigur Ros (generally one word, Siguros) is a rather common name for girls in Iceland, and when translated directly means "Victory Rose." The band Sigur Ros was formed in 1994 on the same day that lead singer Jón Bór Birgisson's (nickname Jónsi) little sister (Siguros) was born. Along with Jónsi, who plays lead guitar (often with a cello bow), synthesizer, and sings, Sigur Ros is made up of: Kjartan Sveinsson (nickname Kjarri) on piano, keyboards, guitar and flute; Georg Hólm (nickname Goggi) on bass and xylophone; and Orri Páll Dýrason (nickname Orri) on drums and keyboards. In addition to these four men (all aged between 25 and 27), this ambitious world tour (with dates remaining in Japan, Germany, Italy, Denmark, and England) includes a four-piece string quartet going by the name Amina, featuring two violins, a viola, and a cello.

By Maxime Petesch
As I indicated above, the buzz behind this band seems to be permeating every area of music. I'm talking to my friends back east who are into indie music, and they tell me, "Dude, I know Sigur Ros is coming out there, DON'T MISS IT." I'm interviewing Jerry Joseph and he says, "I saw this show the other night, the most beautiful concert I've seen in years. Have you heard Sigur Ros? I was with my girlfriend and it had just started. I look at her a couple minutes into it and she has tears coming down her face and I'm all teared up. This is Portland, Oregon, the new epicenter of 'what's fuckin' cool,' right? And fuckin' everybody in the place was just weeping and they hadn't even finished the first song! It was just soooo good, man."

At this point I was pissed I missed their gig at the Warfield Theater a while back, and if I wasn't already half way to the gig, my friend and fellow JamBase contributor Erik Koral sends me this:

By Declan Fleming
"It's been said that hearing the music of Sigur Ros is like going to church. Well, that’s how I feel about seeing Phish, and many other of my favorite improvisational bands today. But that original description couldn’t be any more accurate, this band from Iceland makes music from heaven. It was nearly two years ago when I was exposed to these amazing musicians for the first time at the Coachella Music Festival in Indio, CA. In fact it was the first time most of us had been exposed to them, it was their first ever performance in the United States. Nothing could have prepared any of us for what we were about to see. The band was turning music into art before our eyes. I was completely stunned and have since seen every show they have played in my area because the music was so different than anything I had heard before and just THAT good.

By Bruno Roze
When I tell my friends who have never heard their music before, I tell them to take your favorite elements of classical music, trance music, space-rock bands like Pink Floyd and more contemporary bands like Radiohead and you’ll kind of understand, but you wont really get the whole picture until you see them live. Almost every Sigur Ros song has an element of darkness to reflect our darker times, but in the same song you will find light and hope at the end of the tunnel. You will see a young man singing with so much emotion that tears come to his eyes and then to your own. Most of what is sung is a made up language called "Hopelandic," but that doesn’t matter because you can create your own words and meanings with each song, with a beautiful tapestry that the band and four piece string quartet lays behind him. Sigur Ros does indeed jam, with many epic climaxes in each song (most around the 10-minute mark). But a better description would be that it's soundscape music meant to take you on a journey into your soul and take a deep breath and look at the whole picture around you. At a Sigur Ros show you will see yourself at birth, playing as an innocent child, growing up into an uncertain world with fear around you, but knowing that music and love and emotional catharsis will help you on that journey. Sigur Ros is my favorite band today, they are everything I want to hear, feel, see, and relate to right now. Each time I have seen them, including last Monday in LA, I have cried. Since this band is touring the world right now, I feel they are on a mission of peace. This music will make you stop and think how precious life is and how little time we have on this earth and how to make every day important. I can’t thank them enough for this." -Erik Koral

Needless to say, with so many people, magazines, celebrities, music snobs and "critics" telling me to check out Sigur Ros I was 45 minutes early to their gig at the gorgeous Paramount Theatre in Oakland last Tuesday, April 8th.

Even before the show started I had the notion I was in for something special, but what was growing in my mind was a gross understatement. Walking around this theater that proves to be one of the most amazing venues I've ever been to, I ended up sipping a drink next to the one, the only, Les Claypool. So that was a nice start. (It's the same rule as JazzFest: if you are at the same gig Les is at, you know you are where you should be.) As I slid along the plush carpet and tripped out on the Egyptian/Greek/Roman architecture and decor, I figured I might as well get to my seat.

The opening band, Album Leaf, featuring Jimmy LaValle, was impressive and included several member of Sigur Ros sitting in... but not Jónsi.

Within minutes of Sigur Ros taking the stage, something kind of changed for me. Not to say "I saw the light" or received communion with God, or even began to cry like some... But I do believe I experienced something similar to "Satori." Satori is defined as: "A spiritual awakening sought in Zen Buddhism, often coming suddenly." I can't think of a more appropriate way to explain what was happening. I literally felt as if I was learning, growing, and connecting with this man singing and this band playing, all of them creating a sound that I had never heard before. To not understand one word, yet know everything, to not be able to comprehend a song but become fully aware of the message, these are intense ideas, and perhaps not suited for everyone.

By Declan Fleming
For music to really blow my mind it has to be original. This was perhaps the most unique music I've heard in my adult life. The scope of vision behind this, and dedication to the art side of music was beyond anything I was ready for. A great deal of this revolves around the mystifying, yet shy bandleader Jónsi. What this young man does with his voice is unlike anything I can even attempt to quantify. Singing with angelic sadness in what I believe is a countertenor voice; Jónsi is capable of piercing bodies, evoking tears (which I also saw) and painting horrifically beautiful images in the mind. With lyrics like "Barbwire Stapled In My Mouth That Bleeds Me/Locked In A Cage/Naked Animals Beat Me/And A Savior Knock/Untamed Puts In New Batteries/And Charges Once Again," it's easy to see that this is very serious music.

By Declan Fleming
The best description I can seem to come up with is "symphonic-rock-Icelandic-freak-out music" (better than "shoe-gazing," if you ask me). Drawing on the heavy-dark, and theatrical elements of Pink Floyd, swooning string arrangements, the intensity of Thom Yorke (Radiohead), and a country far away from America, the end result is a world unto its own. Trying to compare Sigur Ros to other music seems futile, and in a way belittling. While Jónsi is clearly the center and driving force of the band, it wouldn't work with out the other three core members who are as good at layering a foundation as any band in the game. The drumming by Orri alternates from soft subtle playing with brushes to raging slam-heavy, skin breaking mayhem, and even incorporates synth pads and speed drumming in the vein of Zach Velmer from Sound Tribe Sector 9.

By Bruno Roze
Kjartan, who serves as utility man layering multiple keyboards, piano, a flute and a guitar, helps create the aura of numerous musicians on stage at once. Coupled with the solid basslines of Georg and the occasional xylophone (by both Georg and one of the violinists), the movements of music take on incredible depth. At times it bathes in angelic beauty and at others in cacophonous hair-raising attacks; there is clearly great attention paid to contrast.

By Aisling O'neill
If I were to have a criticism it would be that much of the evening's music seemed to have a similar progression and feel, although I am inclined to believe that this notion might be more indicative of my unfamiliarity with the music and the fact that every word is sung in a language I've never even heard before. I say this because music is a language. And every language has its nuances, and if you are not familiar with the language it can at times "all sound the same." I know many of the bands I follow closely have been described this way to me by friends I am trying to turn on. As I become more intimately connected and familiar with Sigur Ros's catalogue I think this "sameness" will dissipate much in the same way a Widespread Panic show or Sound Tribe Sector 9 show becomes completely original and fresh as you learn the language. But all of this talk about language, songs and familiarity are truly secondary to what Sigur Ros and Jónsi are all about. It isn't about understanding words, or knowing names. It's about the emotion, the universal message and the passion.

By Bruno Roze
The intensity of Jónsi is truly amazing, and I really can't say enough about his voice, but his orchestrational leadership with the guitar and bow are certainly a driving force behind the band. I'd say more than half of the thirteen or so songs found Jónsi running his bow across his Les Paul. One climatic composition found Jónsi beating on his strings with the bow, as wood splintered off and he feel to his knees. Still torturing his guitar (and perhaps his soul) the pain and struggle was clearly apparent... and not that "misunderstood singer/songwriter pain." I mean PAIN. I'm talking about songs like "Viðrar Vel Til Loftárása" (Good Day For An Air Strike) named after actually hearing a news commentator say "good day for an air strike" during the war in Kosovo.

By Aisling O'neill
All the while the music was perfectly complimented by a projection/light show of amazing proportions. A screen covered the entire back of the stage with images ranging from soft ambiguous human forms slowly moving in perfect time to the music (which I believe were taken from the bands video "svefn-g-englar," featuring an acting group of people with Down Syndrome) to flashing, scary psychedelic images when the music called for it.

By Bruno Roze
Throughout this amazing evening the musicians also used loops to further fill out the sound, and create one of the broadest ranges I've ever had the pleasure of digesting. Toward the end of the show Jónsi had looped his voice and left the stage. I thought it was the end of the show, and was more than satisfied. The band came back out and played at least four more LONG songs. To be honest I have no idea how Jónsi can continually pour that much of himself out. He is without question one of the most passionate performers I've seen, and in order to do what he does, I have to imagine he leaves himself open and exposed every single night. There would be no other way to evoke the emotions he does without the complete depletion of the depths within.

By Declan Fleming
The evening ended with a beautiful composition called "Popplagid." After another journey through dark and light, all that was left was the resonating loop of Jónsi's gorgeously haunting voice. This being the final destination on Sigur Ros's American leg, the band came out and bowed, much like the end of an opera or play. The band received a double standing ovation, and I had a hard time leaving the room, still soaking in Jónsi's voice, his pain, his soul.

Like my friend Erik Koral alluded to, nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced. I am still in awe of their musical talent, artistic delivery and amazing message. I had listened to their CD, and listened to stories, but what I imagined paled in comparison. As I said before, I've never seen anything like Sigur Ros, and that is a very difficult claim to make. I have a good friend who's been asking me, "What's next? What will be the next band that can carry the weight, that can freak us out and make us think? What is the next band that will really affect us?" Well my friend, that band just might be Sigur Ros.

The Kayceman
JamBase | Head Quarters
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[Published on: 4/11/03]

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