Sigur Rós might have fared better at Red Rocks on Saturday had the placid crowd been on a Sigur Rush. Photo by Laurie Scavo.
Colorado fans rarely need cajoling to get rowdy. This, after all, is the land of burning couches, where tear gas is a key ingredient in sports celebrations and where some swear the hideous crowd “wave” was born. But those are all sports-related phenomenons and none occurred at Saturday’s Sigur Rós concert, where fans mostly sat and listened intently to the important music flowing from the stage.
Sigur Rós, an Icelandic band with roots in the shoe-gazing genre, make cinematic music sung in a made-up language. Yet the group, who is a critical darling, had to resort to the unthinkable toward the end of Saturday’s concert at Red Rocks — politely asking fans to stand up and appear to enjoy the show.
“Maybe we can have you help us out,” pleaded lead singer Jón þor Birgisson before the group broke into the lively “Gobbledigook.” “Maybe you can clap? Maybe you can stand up too?”
The crowd dropped its earnestness and appeared to actually physically enjoy the show — clapping in unison to the song that is about as poppy a tune as the band has recorded. Revelry continued through the encore and the enthralling and mesmerizing finale of “Popplagið,” which left this newcomer to the Sigur Rós’ phenomenon utterly slack jawed. Wow.
“Popplagið”is the band’s hallmark — and rightly so. It is a hypnotic howl born out of Birgisson’s Les Paul guitar that spirals to an unbelievable crescendo. With the lights pulsing to the music, I had visions of snakes burrowing out of the stage and climbing the sandstone monoliths. At least, that’s what I wrote in my notes.
The book on Sigur Rós is they may be the best live band on earth, and that reputation is no doubt why Red Rocks was nearly filled to capacity Saturday for a band that is about as anti-radio as you can get.
“Their songs start out soft and build into a crescendo of love,” said Adam O’Neil of Boulder, a longtime fan who sat next to me and tried to prepare me for what I was about to experience before the show began. “When you listen to them, imagine you are underwater,” he said. That was not easy to do, but possibly easier for some sitting in front of me puffing on small pipes.
The show was impressive, and the band was flawless — revealing why so many critics and fans follow the group. O’Neil said they are best heard through headphones. They are perfect for the iPod but totally wrong for the shuffle mode.
This is music you must experience in totality, from quiet intros to the cacophonic conclusions. Their intense cinematic sounds are completely out of place next to almost anything else. The band’s opener, “Heysátan,” was a nice, warm introduction with single electric candles lighting up the stage as Birgisson hit single notes from his antique organ that looked like a wooden chest of drawers.
The song was a subdued and perfect transition from the opening group, Parachutes, which played so softly that electric fans on the stage were louder than the music. Sigur Rós’ set, though, gradually gained momentum. Birgisson grabbed his cello bow and Gibson and let fly, at one point, shredding the bow during a particular tumultuous song.
Birgisson’s soprano is no doubt one of the best in rock, beating Chris Martin from Coldplay and Thom Yorke from Radiohead in any howl-off you can devise. I have no idea what he is saying, though. I swear many of the lyrics sounded like, “You sigh.” But the dude has pipes.
Perhaps the seriousness and intensity of the music is why so many sat for so much of the show and why Birgisson felt he had to remind them that they were at a concert — not a church or study hall. But the audience is to be forgiven. After all, many probably thought they were underwater.
Jeremy Meyer is a Denver Post reporter and regular Reverb contributor.
Laurie Scavo is a Denver-based freelance photographer and regular Reverb contributor.