Tuesday 16 January 2018

Rock: Sigur Ros

John Meagher

John Meagher

Sigur Ros

O2, Dublin

The move from mid-size venues to large arenas usually forces bands to dispense with subtlety and sophistication. But Iceland's Sigur Ros are no ordinary band – and none of the intricacies of their cerebral music are lost in the O2's wide-open space.

If anything, this sort of scale suits music that is frequently epic and grandiose. And that's certainly the case with second song 'Glosoli'; one of their signature compositions, it builds unhurriedly before climaxing in the most magnificent, awe-inspiring way.

With a semi-opaque screen obscuring the view of the band's core members and their brass and string accomplices for the opening 20 minutes, the focus is entirely on the music.

And even when the screen is dropped and the large cast of musicians can be discerned properly, there are few concessions to the normal look-at-me antics of arena headliners. Instead, enigmatic frontman Jonsi Birgisson and friends concentrate on coaxing beautiful, evocative sounds from their instruments.

In a career-spanning set, they barely put a foot wrong, whether it's in the complexities of 'E-bow' and 'Stormur' or on the euphoric, hands-in-the-air celebration that is 'Festival' (the only song they perform in the O2 that boasts an English title).

Their most celebrated song, 'Hoppipolla', has found itself used on innumerable television clips, especially those that show victory in the face of adversity, and it is delivered in sensational fashion – a veritable symphony of rock and classical instruments and Birgisson's keening, otherworldly vocals.

And yet it's not the highlight of the show.

The most astonishing song is left for the encore: 'Svefn-g-englar' unfolds over 10 marvellous minutes and its gorgeous marriage of lush orchestration and unforgettable vocal delivery is underpinned by that "depth charge" sound that makes the recorded original so memorable.

There is no need for pyrotechnics when the music is this good – abetted in part by the venue's excellent acoustics – and yet the experienced is enhanced by understated visual accompaniment including big screens that show images of band members picked up by unobtrusive mini cameras dotting the stage.

Birgisson is a man of few words, but when he speaks he means what he says – and in an era of self-important frontmen, his approach makes for a welcome change.

Few are likely to leave muttering about the band being better when they were less known – and as the final strains of 'Popplagio' ring out, you realise you've witnessed a show that will live long in the memory.

Irish Independent

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