dreaming of ponies and peonies

Review: Sigur Rós at Edgefield

By Stephen Person August 10, 2012

Sigur Rós, fronted by Jónsi Birgisson, performing live at the Edgefield on Thursday, Aug. 9.

If there’s one thing that rings true, it’s that Sigur Rós looked as if they could have been plucked straight out of a Stumptown coffee shop. The Icelandic ensemble, with their uniformly unkempt hair and five-o-clock shadow, just have that aesthetic. But, if they hailed from PDX and not Reykjavík, they’d arguably be one of the many local bands that you listen to once—and promptly forget.

If you were present at the McMenamins Edgefield amphitheater this past Thursday for the sold-out Sigur Rós show, and took the time to ask an adoring concertgoer what drew them there, they’d tell you it’s the band’s atmospheric sound and ethereal whisperings; or, possibly, its strategic use of crescendo and diminuendo to create layers of brooding, hypnotic-yet-ambient minimalist soundscapes. They certainly would not praise the witty and relatable lyricism, since the band mostly sings in Icelandic or a made-up language (See: gibberish/ Glossolalia) resembling humming. Essentially, Sigur Rós is a band that has made its reputation on glacial arrangements and vocals that are not much different than the cries of the nearby trembling two-year-old, who started whining and covering her ears when the reverb of lead singer Jónsi Birgisson’s bowed guitar bled from stage.

As far as stage presence goes—what stage presence? Save for their keyboardist, who deftly switched back and forth between instruments and looked to be having a good time doing so, the rest of the band (and their six helper musicians) didn’t venture outside a radial area much bigger than that of a hula-hoop. Not once did they acknowledge that there was a sold-out audience in front of them. No witty chitchat, no banter, nothing. If you want to see a band that actively engages the crowd in more than a close-your-eyes-pretend-you’re-happy-and-falling-asleep-to-dream-of-ponies-and-peonies way, Sigur Rós is not the band for you. Or me. Or the 70-some people I counted sleeping. Maybe we’re just spoiled by all the great music in Portland, but if I’m looking for a lushly orchestrated, cinematic band, I’ll take Typhoon over Sigur Rós any day.

Admittedly, there was a moment when the sum-of-its-parts created something wholly different than the meanderingly cathartic vibe that the majority of the concert was predicated on. The encore song, Popplagið, reached a powerful, billowing, near thunderous level. But, too little, too late.

Of course, I realize there were many in the crowd experiencing something akin to transcendence. If you’re one of them, let us know about it in the comments below.

Here’s the set list if you’re into that sort of thing.

Ekki Múkk
Olsen Olsen
Viðrar Vel Til Loftárása
Í Gær
Með Blóðnasir

Encore: Popplagið

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