A little over a year ago, the prospects of any new Sigur Rós seemed slim. The band was on hiatus and Jónsi had a few solo projects under his belt; his own album and collaborations with his partner Alex Somer. But not only did we get Valtari almost exactly a year ago, the band is already about to release another new album, Kveikur. Impressive, considering most previous albums have 3 or 4 years between them.
And not only do we get the albums, but the band has embarked on a world tour, stopping by Burnaby's picturesque Deer Lake Park*, fresh off the Sasquatch Festival.
*when it's not raining, that is.
Opening the night was Julianna Barwick, whose most recent album Nepenthe was produced by Alex Somer. I arrived about mid way through her set, not actually sure if she had started; there was pleasant, ambient music wafting from the stage, but it wasn't until you got closer that you spotted Barwick, alone on stage with just her looping station. Her haunting voice added to the samples and loops coming from the laptop, and while the music was well crafted and soothing -- and a great choice to set the mood for the show -- it wasn't much to watch.
It had been raining on and off all day, but the rain eased off for the most part in time for the show, and was only at a faint sprinkling when the members of Iceland's Sigur Rós took the stage. The band is now down to a three piece -- Jónsi Birgisson on vocals & guitar, Georg Hólm on bass, and Orri Páll Dýrason on drums -- but they were backed by eight others, including a hefty strings and horn section to fill out their sound with a magnificent eleven-piece band.
All clad in black, they started the show with a new song "Yfirborð", which consistently bubbled up, threatening to burst, but never quite getting there -- a good opener to a night of songs that would erupt with energy and joy.
The video screen behind them going from ambient images to videos for the songs, fitting the mood perfectly. And while the group isn't known for their talkativeness, their stage presence had the audience entranced. Especially Jónsi who was everywhere between gently caressing to violently sawing away at his guitar with his signature bow, with his angelic voice transfixing the crowd, whether he sung in Icelandic or his made-up "Vonlenska" (or Hopelandic).
Many of the songs got recognition applause based on a single note, like the absolutely heartwrenching "Vaka", or the beautiful "Sæglópur"; "Svefn-g-englar" saw the dozens of light bulbs on stage twinkling like stars with every note (and a flock of geese soaring over the stage with perfect timing at the end of the song); and the appropriate titled "Hoppípolla", which translates to "Jumping Into Puddles", gave me chills that had nothing to do with the weather and lit up the stage with both the lights and the LED screen sparkling to life like fireflies.
The set ended beautifully with a trio of songs; another new one, the title track "Kveikur", which was absolutely apocalyptic in scope; a brief respite with the beginning of "Festival", and Jónsi holding a single note longer than anyone I have seen, before the skies part and the rain fell right as the song started to rise to its gorgeous and soaring ending; and finally "Brennisteinn", a heavy and distorted new track, with the PA system almost unable to handle the driving bass.
But of course, they were back out for a couple more, first the uplifting "Glósóli" before ending the show with "Popplagið", as they are wont to do. The song is one of my absolute favourites, that builds and builds, layer upon layer, and every time you think they can't push it further, it explodes into another climax, until you are almost physically spent from the sheer intensity.
Corny as it may sound, seeing them live is a magical and transcendent experience. The songs leave you full of hope, full of sorrow, full of joy -- sometimes all at once -- without the band singing a single word of English.
setlist (can not verify this is 100% correct; found it independently after the show, but it looks about right)
Yfirborð, Ný Batterí, Vaka, Hrafntinna, Sæglópur, Svefn-g-englar, Varúð, Hoppípolla, Með Blóðnasir, Olsen Olsen, Kveikur, Festival, Brennisteinn.
(encore) Glósóli, Popplagið.