12 Sep 2005: Beacon Theatre New York
Growing up, I was never one for the theatre. Even as an adult that has seen numerous operas and musicals in various professional capacities, I still find myself unimpressed. I remember a girlfriend once catching me looking at the program during a performance of Rent and the 45-minute argument that ensued. Everything just seemed so literal, so obvious, so stiff, and so scripted. There’s nothing for an introvert like me to grab hold of, to crawl inside. Maybe when I become more mature and cultured I’ll appreciate high art; maybe not.
It’s been a while since I’ve written about music, really written about my love for it. It’s a lot like a relationship in that respect. You’re infatuated at first and you just can’t get enough of it. Then inevitably you sink into a groove, you search out your styles and your genres, everything moves along at a predictable pace. Then one day you say to yourself, “I hate everything in my collection.” And everything becomes stagnant.
You need something different, something totally original, something alien. You need Icelandic act Sigur Rós. You need them to rekindle that spark inside that made you realize why you loved music so much, how it can take you someplace nothing else can. It’s rare that you find a type of music that can accurately describe what you’re feeling without lyrics you actually understand.
That same theory applies to live shows: At first, everything is exciting, because it’s live. The more shows you go to the more selective you become. Then one day you find yourself turning down dates on your favorite bands’ tours because you’re tired or it’s too expensive. Terrible excuses, ones I could never see myself making for this band. The fact that the entire crowd paid for tickets is all the more reason to believe that everyone wanted to be there. No press comps, no corporate sponsor comps, no music magazine vans in the front handing out free garbage. And best of all, the fan club got the best seats in the house.
This would be my first trip to the Beacon Theatre in New York and would prove to be as memorable as I had hoped. There really isn’t a better venue to host a band like this, one more suited for a performance than a show.
Seats are necessary. Brevity is not something this band is known for. They’ve built their fan base on soaring, sprawling (sometimes wordless) movements that last anywhere from seven to 13 minutes depending on tempo and pauses. A nice comfortable seat in a visually stunning theatre is exactly what’s called for. Barring the inclusion of songs from the newer album, the actual show varied only slightly from their previous US tours. But to think of it in those terms is to detract from the real point of this experience.
The precision, feeling, and overall beauty of their performance is what separates this band’s performances from normal rock shows. It’s an opera for the imagination, complete with highs and lows, twists and turns, and deeper and lighter moments which all combine for a climax that would leave anyone speechless. The octave arcs of uniquely enchanting falsetto that Jón Birgisson projects on the crowd are equally mesmerizing and intoxicating.
This, coupled with the band’s flawless accompaniment on each song leaves little to draw the attention away from the performance. It creates a type of focused sedation that’s entirely hallucinatory. This isn’t to say that the visuals aren’t stunning as well, because they are. Typical Sigur Rós-ian imagery of small children and abstract shapes were projected onto a large retractable screen behind the band during the set for those who chose not to close their eyes. The visuals allowed us to visit this very strange yet very comfortable place that has been created for a short period of time. Anyone would be hard-pressed to leave the show without a feeling of total satisfaction.
The set list on the second night was exactly that of the first but was every bit as memorable and moving. The experience is like seeing your favorite movie or listening to your favorite music over and over. You still love all the same parts but every time you discover something a little different, a little something that makes you a bit closer to the thing you love so much. I’ve never been to this place called Iceland, but I should like to go very soon.
// Notes from the Road
"Rhiannon Giddens, formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, brought her Freedom Highway tour to New York for a powerful show. The tour resumes next week and hits Newport Folk later this summer.READ the article