Live Review: Sigur Rós @ Hollywood Bowl, Sepember 24, 2016
Photo by Scott Feinbaum for OC Weekly. Full gallery here.
All due respect to Bloc Party/Bob Mould/Ezra Furman who played the actual final show on Sunday, but Sigur Rós brought the Hollywood Bowl’s 2016 season to its crescendo on a warm night this past Saturday, a vindicating sell-out show at the venue they played to a not quite half-full audience a decade prior in 2006.
Performing now as a three-piece – Jonsí Bergisson (vocals/guitar/more), Goggí Holm (bass/more), Orrí Dýrason (drums/keyboards/more) – following the departure of longtime member and primary keyboardist, Kjarri Sveinsson, the Icelandic band carried the whole of the show alone, a marked change from past tours that have included augmentation by several additional backing players on strings and other instrumentation. Clearly there’s a statement of independence and self-reliance about this, with no new album to support, this is a presentation of the band itself, that three of them can and will carry on, even filling a Hollywood Bowl with sound without assistance (admittedly there are samples triggered at times). In fact, their new key photo art is of three of them, face on (if a bit marred with a “melting” effect), in one of the most direct looks we’ve had of the band members in their official imagery, lifting just a bit of the mystery in their aesthetic. That said, once this tour concludes, the three-piece Sigur Rós firmly established, they return to Los Angeles in April 2017 for a series of shows at Walt Disney Hall backed by the LA Phil.
A typically solid, if perhaps not as transcendent as usual and a bit restrained at times, performance by the band divided into two parts with a brief intermission in between, they showcased their signature sound that weaves experimental, “post-rock” (ugh, I know…), ambient and modern classical, going from quiet and intimate sparseness to swelling to the bracingly loud and epic density. Or, rather, should be bracingly loud; on the technical side, the Bowl did not serve their sound as well as might have been hoped. Their dynamics would seem well suited to be amplified the venue (my own fuzzy recollections of that 2005 show are positive – though I may have been too close to the stage to be objective) but the volume Saturday was simply too low; Jonsí’s bowed electric guitar never quite reaching those volcanic sonic peaks, the occasional toy piano plonking lost in the sea of glass clanking and chomping picnickers. All told, it did not necessarily make for the immersive audio/visual experience that Sigur Rós is known for.
Performing in front of and occasionally behind a projection screen braced by a sort of 3D scaffolding illuminated occasionally beams (a fairly novel set design that was not maximized) and a mix of film and abstract light projections, the show spanned their career, now midway through their third decade of existence. From the shorter first set, “Smáskifa”, a non-album live favorite, a swirling drone that fades into a pitch-shifted vocal coda, and Takk’s cloud bursting slow build “Glósóli”, were standouts; from the second set, the hypnotic keyboard motifs of “Vaka” (“Untitled 1″ from ( ) a.k.a Untitled) and a particularly heavy reading of the bass-led stomp of “Ný Batterí” were memorable. As expected, “Starálfur,” gets a rise of recognition from the crowd, for better or worse permanently associated with The Life Aquatic for what we can guess is a particularly tight Venn diagram of Sigur Rós and Wes Anderson fans. They withhold perhaps their most iconic piece, “Svefn-g-englar”, the music most of us first heard by them, with its church organ and submarine radar ping intro that give way to a massive glacier of bowed guitar (and yet to be played on the current tour). Two new songs were featured: “Á”, a bold choice for show opener, a tense drone thumper that gives way to a nice chorus release, which looks to be a new gem, alongside the darker downbeat “Óveður”, maybe the most “goth” thing they’ve issued.
All considered, 2002’s ( ) a.k.a. Untitled, the nameless, languageless standout in their canon, emerged as the focal point of the night, five of its eight songs featured prominently, including the usual closing thrash of “Popplagið” (a.k.a. “Pop Song” a.k.a. “Untitled 8”). The return to the Untitled album by the band, 14 years since its release besides being a classic that demands frequent revisiting, felt natural 2016, times where there just too damn many words in the air, too often saying too little of substance, about overwhelming events. Mute the presidential debate, log out of Twitter, and put on ( ).
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