By Chris Newton

Sigur Ros :: 09.21.05 :: Chicago Theater :: Chicago, IL

Sigur Ros
Picture this: Slowly, like the ocean, a sound wave pushes through air on its way to Everything, and you are lucky enough to be in its path. It comes in slow motion, collecting energy as it expands in size, until it hits, exploding around and through you. You breathe it in, and it seeps into your pores - a single vibration communicating with all of your senses, both reminding you and telling you for the first time that sound is energy, infinitely. The vibration that produces the tone of the sound wave contains all of life's ancient secrets, secrets that do not translate into words, but rather are absorbed and released back into the world as emotions. And the cycle is endless.

While our eyes of course cannot detect sound waves, music undeniably walks hand-in-hand with our emotions, providing the soundtrack to our moods, thoughts, desires, dreams, and hopes. Icelandic ambient rock quartet Sigur Ros reminds us through their epic sound sculptures that we are all part of something infinite, and while our bodies one day will all stop breathing, the legacy we exhale is eternal.

Jón Bór Birgisson :: Sigur Ros
The current North American Sigur Ros tour recently stopped at the Chicago Theater on September 21. While entering the beautiful hall, the audience was greeted by a single tone playing over and over through the PA to a rhythm much like waves on a beach. It was a very cleansing and warm tone, which at first seemed like a loop, but slight variations were detectable. Sometimes the crescendos were greater than usual, sometimes less. Sometimes the tone was held longer, sometimes falling off faster. Again, very much like waves crashing on the beach. The lights didn't change too much, but occasionally they would move subtly or change color slowly. This steady wave of warmth put the entire crowd in the same mind state — relaxed, calm, and collected — serving as a group mantra meditation.

Sigur Ros
After about 25 minutes, the lights went down and the band took the stage behind a huge white screen. The visuals throughout the show were nothing short of stunningly creative and brilliantly simple. For each song, the visual display had a different theme or feel, but all the images projected were of humans in some form or another: a baby's head floating slowly across the stage, a body enhanced to look like a shield or a bird, dozens of animated figures leaping off a ledge, falling a bit, then flying majestically to the top. Strikingly, although all the images were of people, only a few times did they appear obviously human. It was an interesting way to look at ourselves from all sorts of angles and perspectives, and a compelling realization that with a slight manipulation, a person can appear as an angel.

Jón Bór Birgisson :: Sigur Ros
For the first song, they played behind the screen as the lights moved slowly around and behind them, projecting images of the band members at all different types of angles onto the sheet. After the opening song, the screen went down, revealing the band to extremely respectful applause. Perhaps it was the venue, but the entire performance had a very "theater" feel to it; everyone sat down and paid very close attention to the show, applauding at the right times and remaining respectfully quiet during the performance (except for one or two people who just could not resist the urge to shout "you rock" or something like that).

Although I am very familiar with the music of Sigur Ros, I do not know the song names, which I suppose is pretty appropriate for this band. Much of the lyrics were sung in "Hopelandic," the language invented by guitarist/lead singer Jón Bór Birgisson and his band mates, while the rest was sung in their native tongue, Icelandic. In fact, their 2002 release has no title at all expect a set of parenthesis, ( ), and all of the tracks are referred to as "Untitled 1," "Untitled 2," etc. Names are just labels anyway and are irrelevant compared to the feeling that music brings to the listener, a fact also exemplified as the band spoke not a single word to the audience during their performance. Words were not necessary to "tell" you about the music. Instead, the music communicated through emotions, warming your heart with its honesty and beautiful truth.

The music itself was very ambient, falling somewhere in between the mellow space rock of Pink Floyd and the dramatic peaks of Romantic-era classical music. It's a sound the band says is meant to bring listeners the beautiful landscape of their homeland. A typical song started very small, sometimes just with one note, and patiently built up to a huge climax, led by front man Jónsi's reverb-laden bowed guitar chords and uniquely high pitched falsetto voice cascading down from the speakers.

Sigur Ros
To describe Sigur Ros as an instrumental band would not be entirely incorrect; while most songs did contain vocals, Jónsi's voice was more like another instrument, with the focus on melody and not lyrics. The rest of the instrumentation consists of Kjartan Sveinsson on piano and keyboards, Orri Páll Dýrason on drums, and Georg Hólm on bass. The Amina String Quartet also frequently joined the band, adding yet another level to the already incredible soundscapes pulsating from the stage. At times throughout the show, it seemed as though we were listening to an angel's lullaby. At other times, it was like a soundtrack to the greatest dream ever. My favorite way to describe their sound is a conversation between Love and Hope, through the divine language of music.

Their set lasted about two hours with an encore, including material from Ágætis Byrjun (1999), ( ) (2002), and the recently released Takk... (2005). The songs were performed flawlessly, sounding even better than on the album. And when the encore was over, the entire band (including The Amina String Quartet and stage crew) walked back out to a standing ovation, holding hands and applauding along with the crowd. Although we were directly applauding the show we just experienced, we were all really applauding each other, band included, for taking a tour together through emotions via sound and art. Because, as Jonsi said in an interview in 2002, "if you're doing something from all of your heart, then only good things can come to you." After about a minute, everyone on stage simultaneously bowed hand-in-hand formally and respectfully to the audience and walked backstage. The show was over, but the final looped chord resonated for several minutes longer, slowly backing away as it became quieter, until it was gone, swept away with the tide.

JamBase | Chicago
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 10/10/05]

Take full advantage of all JamBase has to offer by signing up for an account!

You'll receive

show alerts

when your favorite artists announce shows, be eligible to enter contests for

free tickets

, gain the ability to

share your personalized live music calendar

and much more. Join JamBase!