Bourgeois Deviant

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Sigur Rós. Good for what ails you.

As you may discern from a prior post, I have been a bit melancholy of late. So, before all that happened, I saw that Sigur Rós was coming to town. For those of you who don’t know, they are a hip little band from Iceland that has been around making really terrific ambient music. That is a gross generalization of what they do, but for now it serves me.

Trekking from Bay Ridge to the Upper West Side proved to be well worth the haul. For those of you who have never been to the Beacon Theatre, it is a sight to behold. I can only guess at its vintage. Probably 1920’s. It is well maintained and the sound is excellent. The Wife and I got there right on-time and took our position in the nosebleeds (which were still pretty darned good seats). Soon thereafter, the opening band, the Amina string quartet, took the stage. At first I wasn’t quite sure what to make of them, but they held my interest and they left the stage at the end of their set with a good opinion from me.

Like Sigur Rós, Amina’s sound kind of defies description. Both bands, despite different instrumentation and overall sounds, musically articulate an abstract landscape as if you were viewing a painting with your ears. Amina went from extremely ambient and atmospheric compositions to melodies that were nearly electronically poppy. One of the women even played the saw, which I love. They later joined the headliners on stage for several numbers throughout the show as an excellent accompaniment on a number of different instruments.

The opening and closing numbers were the only “performances” of the evening for Sigur Rós. By that, I mean to say that there was an element of theatricality and/or sense of a mise en scène. A white scrim hung before the band and interplay of lights, smoke and digital image projection interwove to generate equal aural and optical stimulation commensurate with the overall style of the band. It was simple yet powerful. An excellent prologue for all fans, virgin or veteran, and foreshadowed a good evening.

The rest of the performance was equally as strong but wholly different. It was solely about the music. They did have lights and video projection, but those peripherals were so subtle, they were only a gentle dash of spice enriching the overall flavor of the event. It just goes to show you, as with theatre or film, if a good story, or in this case music, is there, who needs lots of spectacle?

One element of both groups, but particularly in Sigur Rós’s case, was the electronic looping and effects that were used. Some fans of live music get put off when all the musicians’ music on stage is not ego ingenero but it just works for them. With all of the technology they have, they can achieve depths and layers to their music that I can only articulate as lush. Again, no one element of what they play or produce is astonishing, but the combination and manipulation therein touches genius levels regularly.

Closing the show was an aesthetically similar performance as the show opener. However, the melody was evocative of moving on and the potential of what lay ahead. Maybe it is where I am in life right now and the events going on around me, but I felt that this band captured my mood and lifted me out of it. Like a little therapy session, traveling from despair to optimism in the span of 90 minutes. It was the right show at the right time.

I had been speaking to a musician friend the night before about training to play music as a professional. He said that practicing (drums) was good, but you had to be able to really wail unimpeded by volume, time or space in order to get the conditioning you need. He said “Do you wanna see a guy who is solid for the sprint or for the marathon?” After seeing this show, there is no doubt that Sigur Rós are in it for the marathon.

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