12 Sep 2005: Beacon Theatre New York
There is something instantly disarming about attending my first concert at the Beacon Theatre. Maybe it is the chandeliers and detailed ornate fixtures. It could be the movie theatre-style concession stands selling everything from hot dogs to buckets of popcorn. Or perhaps it is the thick muggy haze that hangs in the air, reminding me of the lighting and shadows of that surreal sequence in The Shining when Jack Torrance chats with the bartender. Before the opening act it becomes clear that tonight isn’t going to be just another concert. This will be a show to remember, as the Icelandic quartet Sigur Rós washes up on our shores to kick off their North American tour.
As Sigur Rós begins the intro track from their latest album Takk (Icelandic for “thank you”), the curtain remains drawn. Track lights set at the feet of the band members create huge shadows on the foreground, as a warm red light washes the stage like recently drawn blood. The curtain slowly rises and Oz is revealed in his glory to the applause of his captivated audience. Lead singer Jon Thor Birgisson wastes no time before breaking into a glorious rendition of “Ny Batteri”. With his guitar hanging from his shoulder, Birgisson clutches a cello bow in his right hand. He appears as fragile as his voice. All the while another light projects his shadow in the background, rendering his features alien on the walls of the theatre.
The setlist this evening is flawless. Picking signature tracks from all four of their full-length albums the band, with string section Anima (also the opening act), play to a packed house that remains respectfully hushed. Whether the rising crescendos of “Untitled 4 (Njósnavélin)” or the elegant ethereal nature of “Hoppipolla”, the entire evening seems like one long dream; clapping in between tracks seems almost criminal.
The band’s command of the room is effortlessly demonstrated halfway through “Viðrar Vel Til Loftárása”. Birgisson pauses, the eerie silence compounded by the still image of a porcelain doll’s face lingering on the screen behind him. After nearly a minute, he raises his eyebrows, licks his lips, and uses his voice and bow to send the remainder of the song out to sea.
Whether it is the ink blot lovers dancing during “Svefn-G-Englar” or the birds flying through the night and perched on a wire throughout “Smasifka”, the visual accompaniment to the band’s music is nothing short of stunning. As “Smasifka” comes to a close, the string section rises from their seats. One by one the other members leave the stage, until only Orri Pall Dyrasen remains, on keyboards. When he leaves, with his last note still reverberating in the air, all the birds fly from the wire, as if stirred by the massive applause from the audience.
The band comes out for one encore and, appropriately, plays the epic closer “Untitled 8 (Popplago)”. The ominous song builds and builds as Orri’s impeccable drumming has everyone rocking in their seats, a bit nervous for the impending explosion. It is like watching the quiet kid in the back of class mouthing off to the teacher—we are conditioned to his whisper but pay most attention when we hear him scream. Rustled from our dreams, unsure if the past two hours were real or imagined, the audience blows up. Everyone jumps to their feet while the band humbly bows through three curtain calls. I hear a few fans appropriately scream, “Takk! Takk! ” and my hands feel raw from clapping.
If Jack White is going to write the new jingle for the international Coca Cola campaign, I hope it is Sigur Rós that composes the symphony when the spaceships finally come to land.
// Notes from the Road
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