Review and photos by Keith Perks
Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós recently embarked on a world tour and made a stopover in Philadelphia at the Met. Hailing from Reykjavík, this band has been around since 1994. Although popular in their home country, it wasn’t until 1999 that international fame arrived.
“Ágætis byrjun” was released in 1999 and over a two-year period its popularity spread as critics and fans praised the album’s originality and eclectic sound. It also didn’t hurt that they started opening for well-known bands such as Radiohead. A big boost in popularity came from Cameron Crowe’s “Vanilla Sky,” which starred Tom Cruise, Penélope Cruz and Cameron Diaz. The soundtrack included three of their songs.
Over the years, the band has released several albums and received countless awards, including a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album for “()”.
The announcement for the new tour was released in February with the news that they will be recording new material, the first since “Kveikur” in 2013. Founding members Jónsi and Georg Holm were joined on this tour by member longtime Kjartan Sveinsson, as well as Ólafur Björn Ólafsson (Óbó) on drums/percussion.
It was the second time I saw Sigur Rós and the first time I shot them. Ten years prior, they were to perform on the Skyline Stage at the Mann Center. I immediately applied and was immediately approved by their manager. I was told to come back the day of the show and unfortunately my name never made it to the box office and I couldn’t contact anyone in time, so I missed it. I still had a fantastic evening and that’s where I first heard about their opening “Perfume Genius”. This concert, even if I couldn’t film it, was in my Top 5 concerts of all time. It was perfect.
This tour was on a smaller scale. No orchestra sat with them this time around, but in many ways it was more intense and broader. The tour lighting and venue sound was amazing and there was something about the venue that only added to the experience. It’s a big theatre. All of that and their setlist included a few heavier tracks, which gave fans more diversity. They’ve had two releases since 2011 that brought darker themes. They mixed these songs well, taking us on a performance roller coaster.
This show gave us a selection of over 24 years of music and included new songs as well. They started the evening with “Vaka” and went through tracks like “Samskeyti”, “Svefn-g-englar” and “Smáskifa” before taking a short intermission.
When they came back on stage, they started set 2 with one of my favorites, “Glósóli”. The band then guided us through a series of haunting and enchanting songs. As heavy and dramatic as they could play, they also joined closely onstage during certain songs and played the most delicate and soft notes as Jónsi’s falsetto swept through the Met as if it were church. It was chilling and beautiful.
The sound (and talent) of this band is huge. Jónsi alone is a small man in stature, but with a guitar in his hand and amid lights and lasers he stands with his bow and microphone like a god on stage. He fiercely slides his bow back and forth over the strings of his guitar as if summoning a legend from the dark ice caves of Vatnajökull. His guitar growls and howls and brings such intensity to the songs, it sometimes feels like a heavy metal concert.
Sigur Rós was a band I had to tour with. I’m so lucky not only to have seen them again, it’s a rarity for them to go on a world tour, but it was also an honor for me to capture the incredible moments of their concert.
The Met was wild with applause every set. Every person there knew exactly how special a band was and we all got lost in the music. ‘Festival’, ‘Kveikur’ and ‘Popplagið’ were the last three songs of the evening and they picked us up, shook and challenged us, and gently lowered us back to our seats.
It was with wonder and excitement that we started the show and it was with a spiritual sigh and enlightenment that we returned to our cars after seeing one of the best concerts we would ever see again, until the next time they come to town.