Sigur Rós sets stage ablaze
Hit Icelandic band mesmerizes JPJ audiences
John Paul Jones Arena was flooded last week by a sea of rainbow colored hair, non-prescription glasses and mustaches, with the faint scent of thrift store clothing floating through the air as fans from around Charlottesville streamed in to see Icelandic sensation, Sigur Rós. The crowd of Zooey Deschanel look-alikes, although relatively small considering the size of the arena, buzzed with excitement as they awaited the arrival of lead singer Jónsi Birgisson and his 10-person band.
Anxious fans first had to wait through a 30-minute performance by opener Julianna Barwick, who began by looping a variety of vocal sounds, forming a procession of various notes. The panorama screen in the background played a video throughout the performance of a bride drowning in a swimming pool, which left many in the crowd dismayed and confused.
Barwick’s music created an “ambient folk” sound with gentle noises that flowed easily together. But the continuous looping became tired after the first song, and the crowd’s patience began to wither. When Barwick finally left the stage, she also left quite a few disappointed listeners, as those eager for Birgisson’s arrival critiqued her musical chops and stage presence.
When Sigur Rós hit the stage, with Birgisson wearing a tight, black jacket with small tassels, the crowd went wild. He didn’t say anything, but words became unnecessary as soon as he began to play; his ethereal sound enchanted the audience. He played his guitar with a bow and sang all of his lyrics in Icelandic, but the language barrier made little difference to the fans, who came for his mesmerizing voice and delicate but powerful sound.
Birgisson’s falsetto vocals awed the crowd, as some simply swayed with closed eyes and others head-banged as if they were at a Metallica concert. I even witnessed a few tears streaming down the faces of fans captivated by the show.
The stage was decorated with light bulbs on stands intertwined among the band members, and the light show was overwhelmingly bright and flashing, with signs at the doors warning those prone to seizures. The show lasted just more than an hour, and after a set of softer, smooth-flowing music, the band finished with a loud, rock-like song, as strobe lights flashed alongside the loud, persistent drumming. The band ran off the stage and the crowd demanded an encore, but the 11 members of Sigur Rós simply held hands and bowed before conclusively leaving the stage.
The band’s talent was undeniable, but the personality and charisma characteristic of the best live performances was lacking — perhaps because of the language barrier and cultural differences. Regardless, Sigur Rós knows how to put on an epic show, and its ability to wow the crowd through musical talent alone is sure to endure throughout the group’s North American tour.