Concert Review: Sigur Rós & The Album Leaf (September 27, 2001, Chicago, IL)

If this isn’t music for overcoming broken times and bitter moments, than I don’t know what is.

In all honesty, Sigur Rós isn’t concert music. You don’t go to a Sigur Rós show to rock out and get crazy. Rather, you find yourself longing for a comfortable chair, a warm drink, and a chance to slow down and just soak. Alas, the Vic Theatre doesn’t allow for such luxuries, but I can’t complain too much, since my friends and I got close enough to touch the boys. But still, Sigur Rós isn’t concert music. On their website, they once claimed that they weren’t a band, they were music itself. Lofty claims to be sure, but I can’t help but wonder at how much truth is in that statement.

You watch vocalist/guitarist Jonsi Birgisson howl oh so beautifully, and you get the feeling that he’s not just singing. It doesn’t matter if its in English, Icelandic, or Hopelandic — I know catharsis when I see it. For just a brief moment, I saw music become a physical force when Jonsi’s body stood on the verge of collapse after a particularly powerful movement. There were times where the instruments fell away, and all that was left was Jonsi’s voice, frail and defiant — as if he alone was railing against sadness. The final moments of the show descended into a frenzy of screaming guitars and thundering drums that would’ve made Godspeed You Black Emperor! want to pack it in.

Although the band lacked the string quartet and operatic vocals of Steindór Andersen that graced their first U.S. tour, I didn’t miss them as much as I thought it would. The music was still as grandiose as always, as overwhelming and beautiful as before. And this time, the band played against a backdrop of surreal movies shot by the boys. At times, they were merely that, a backdrop, such as the blurry alien baby face that looked out during the first song. But there were times when they were the perfect accoutrement. At one point, two indistinct bodies flowed around eachother in slow motion, showered in dazzling, golden light. And footage of a flock of birds perched on wires lent an especially ominous note to the music.

Opening for Sigur Rós was The Album Leaf. Apparently, Sigur Rós was so impressed after picking up their album that they asked them to be on tour. I’d always written them off as a Tristeza side-project, but I was pleasantly surprised. What little I’ve heard sounded like some typical post-rock knob-twiddling, but The Album Leaf live stuff was much more song-based and pop-oriented than I’d expected. The last few songs, though hampered with some technical difficulties, were especially gorgeous, full of shimmering guitars and analog synth goodness.

I’m not sure what this means, but everytime I’ve seen Sigur Rós, it always involves some sort of personal tragedy or travail. Granted, I’ve only seen them twice, but that’s still enough for an alarming trend to begin. It also seems fitting that Sigur Rós should sandwich one of the worst times of my life. The first time I saw Sigur Rós took place before a summer best described as “bleak.” And then I saw them amidst the fallout and the pieces waiting to be picked up. And if this isn’t music for overcoming broken times and bitter moments, than I don’t know what is.

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