Sigur Rós at Hollywood Bowl

Sigur Rós at Hollywood Bowl

The first time Hiro and I tried to get tickets to see Sigur Rós in 2012, we stayed up until late the night before they became available and clicked "add to cart" at precisely midnight.  The website took about two minutes to respond, and when it did, tickets were sold out.  So when a show was announced for Hollywood Bowl, I wasn't hopeful.  But this time, after the excruciating two minute wait and a few frantic technical glitches, I had two shiny tickets in my cart.  For all of $45 a piece, we were able to get tickets!

And the show was great!  We came away happy and inspired.

(But why all this ridiculous fervor over tickets?  Rarity of Sigur Rós performances?  Wide appeal of their music?  I'd like to think it's these things plus a result of Sigur Rós trying to keep tickets reasonably priced.)

The first few pieces were particularly moving.  Jonsi seemed a more confident singer than I remembered and the songs were familiar in tone but new and interesting to me.  I enjoyed the classic Sigur Rós pieces too, even though I don't consider myself a nostalgic music listener.  The sound was crystal-clear and natural, but not quite as rich as the recordings, and not as loud as I'd liked.  At one gentle break in the music, an audience member near the back of the 17,500-seat amphitheater shouted, "Engineer!  Turn this motherfucker up!" and we laughed in agreement.

The video work was thought-provoking.  International Space Orchestra, composed of ex-NASA and SETI engineers, opened the show with a set of Sigur Rós covers played (sometimes charmingly off-key) to video graphics.  I found the content of the video interesting but the design lacking... as if the task fell to an intelligent amateur.  "Here is After Effects... Make something involving the Space Shuttle and sea creatures!"  These initial graphics made me realize that I don't want to be watching pre-recorded video at a live concert.  So I was relieved when Sigur Rós started playing and the cameras showed useful close-ups of the performers.  I appreciated their simple attire and their focus on simply performing the music as opposed to emoting with exaggerated facial expressions or gestures.  All of this was captured by the cameras for those of us back in Section F2, row 13.

And what inspiring camera work!  There were a multitude of interesting angles, often tastefully blurred and in black in white, with slow, subtle camera movements.  There were no distracting camera people running around on stage, standing between us and the performers (one of my pet peeves).  The cameras were somehow completely obscured from view, perhaps by using remotely-controlled GoPro-type mini cameras on little slide rails.  It looked great, and the various camera's framing of rich layers of lighting, fog, projection, and set pieces made the video screen sometimes even more compelling than the stage itself.  Bright flashes from bulbs facing the audience were annoying when looking directly at the stage but were beautiful on camera.

I enjoyed all the music and had multiple moments where I was moved to tear up a bit by the singing and thick, distorted, bowed guitar.  That having been said, I felt the most emotional charge at the beginning of the show, as though I became acclimated to the beauty of it all.  I can't help but think it's evidence that I prefer variety over consistency in a concert -- a topic about which Shoji and I sometimes butted heads in On Ensemble.  And even the epic sound of Sigur Rós, performed with compelling simplicity, and supported by well-considered visuals, isn't enough that I'll be transported for a whole show.  While there were incredible moments when all 17,000 of us were sitting silently and contented to listen to three people pluck and tap their instruments, there were also moments when drunk people were talking, when an ambitious cricket was singing along, and marijuana smoke wafted my direction to undermine that magic.  So alongside the high-production, other-worldly moods, there is room for down-to-earth, where the performers speak to the audience.  How do you say, "Turn this motherfucker up" in Icelandic?

Notes for me

  • When composing, remind yourself how emotionally effective Sigur Rós' music is, despite it's technical simplicity.  What is the percussion equivalent of those beautiful, simple melodies?
  • Is there some thick reverb, delayed, highly-effected tonal technique like Jonsi's bowed guitar that I could develop for taiko?  He can basically play anything in tune and it adds to the tune.