The last time Sigur Rós performed in Kansas City, it was a no-frills intimate affair at The Uptown Theater. No elaborate stage show, and no earth shatteringly loud performances of “Popplagið”. Just four dudes and a string section. The majority of their set consisted of quiet acoustic and piano driven pieces. It was as if you were sitting in the band’s living room during a stripped down rehearsal. Fast forward five years, the incredible Icelandic band (now a three-piece) brought a fully produced epic two hour show back to Kansas City’s Starlight Theater.
Opener Oneohtrix Point Never took the stage promptly at 7:30 and provided Avant-Garde Ambient background noise as people filed to their seats, and recalled the first time they ever heard Sigur Rós with their neighbors. Most people didn’t even realize Oneohtrix was on, though, as the dude took the stage unannounced and performed behind the giant curtain separating the crowd and Sigur Rós’ equipment. In a way, it was a brilliant and almost artful way to have an opener.
Sigur Rós finally arrive onstage to open their set with a new track off of their upcoming album Kveikur (set for release in June), shrouded behind the curtains separating the band on all sides of the stage. The only view of the band available was from lights placed strategically behind the members, forcing their silhouettes to appear giant-sized against the curtains, while visuals of swirling water and growing roots were projected on all sides of the stage. It was an immediately jaw dropping sight.
Once the curtains finally dropped after an intense performance of “Ný Batterí”, the audience was treated to a massive curved wall screen in the back that would provide constant visuals throughout the set, as well as moving up and down during songs, as well several dozen lampposts randomly placed about the stage with lightbulbs that would be extensively used during songs such as “Kveikur” and “Varúð”. It was also our first full glimpse of Sigur Rós’ new eleven member live band, which included the three core members as well as a a three piece string section, a three piece horn section, and two multi-instrumentalists. Even without one of the defining members of the band in their lineup anymore, I couldn’t help but think that this was the best Sigur Rós has ever sounded.
The weather was so cold at Starlight during the band’s set, but it clearly didn’t stop the band from playing a flawless set. I even wondered if the cold made them feel a little bit at home. The set itself spent two hours slowly building from another quiet intimate affair towards the beginning to it’s epic climax on “Glósóli” and “Popplagið”. The latter of which had to have been the most aggressive and longest performance I’ve heard yet. The screen behind the band flashed chaotic visuals of television static while the band itself all literally bashed away at their instruments for close to 15 minutes. Watching basist Georg Hólm take off his coat and fold his sleeves up at the beginning of the song was the true sign of “shit’s about to go down”. It truly did.
Four songs were also played off of Kveikur and were absolutely phenomenal, really showcasing the band’s newly found aggressive/electronic direction. The title track from that album, plus current single “Brennisteinn” were total modern aggro-groove tracks that pretty much forced people to move.
Personally, the biggest highlight of the set was the band’s performance of “Varúð”, as the screen behind the band showed a video of a cliffside with shadowy figures scattered about the ledges, flashing lanterns that seemed to communicate with the lightbulbs placed on stage. During the final crescendo of the song, the screen slowly started to rise, along with the music in a completely transcendent way. I found myself being so overwhelmed with emotion during the entire thing. I forgot that I was sitting in 40 degree temperatures watching a band and was lost within the performance. That’s the beauty of seeing Sigur Rós live. The entire experience is one of beauty and transcendence. Each song has different meaning to each different person in the audience. And my “Varúð” could have easily been someone else’s “Hoppípolla” or “Sæglópur”.
After the show, one could easily witness faces full of glee leaving Starlight. A few people could even be witnessed jumping around in excitement. I don’t think anyone left the show last night disappointed. In fact, I can almost assure that at the end of the year nearly everyone in attendance will say that was not only their favorite performance of the year, but one of the best shows they’ve ever seen in their life. I just hope it doesn’t take another five years for Sigur Rós to return to Kansas City. But if they do, at least we’ll know that they’ll bring a worthy show along with them.
By Richard Pepper
Photos by Richard Pepper