Review: Sigur Ros captivate Tampa's USF Sun Dome with dazzling, devastating indie-rock symphony
I must confess, for as much as I listen to Sigur Ros, I – like most English speakers – find their song titles and lyrics pretty meaningless.
But every now and then, my ears perk up in recognition of a familiar blissful chord or heart-pounding drumbeat, and I think: Yes! I love this one! Whatever it’s called!
That happened more than once on Monday, when the Icelandic post-rock kings staged a concert of destructive yet awe-inspiring beauty at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa. Whenever the band introduced a song familiar to their reverently hushed fans– such as Glosoli, Saeglopur, or Hoppipolla, all from 2005’s Takk… – pockets of cheers and applause erupted from the hundreds of fans on the Sun Dome floor. No one sang along – how could you, when the language you sing in is made-up? – but everyone adored simply shutting up to listen.
Sigur Ros may be a trio, but singer-guitarist Jonsi Birgisson, bassist Georg Holm and drummer Orri Pall Dyrason sounded like an army, backed by a marvelous, multi-instrumental symphony of eight. The artists’ methodical musicianship was compelling to watch live, as members moved from strings and brass to pianos to percussion to backing vocals – all, for the most part, without breaking a sweat.
The symphonic approach was the right call on Monday, when Sigur Ros showcased plenty of material from their clattering, cacophonous new LP Kveikur. The album is an unapologetic step back from the group’s slight toe-dabs into palatable indie pop, such as the 2008 single Gobbledigook and Jonsi’s 2010 solo album Go (on Monday, Sigur Ros played none of the above). And songs like the stomping Brennisteinn and industrial-tinged title track swayed like haunted fishing ships in the North Atlantic, with Dyrason clanging on more than a half-dozen cymbals and tiny gongs above his drum kit.
Sigur Ros’ lack of coherent lyrics is not a problem for Jonsi, whose “Hopelandic” poetry is merely a conduit for his dazzling falsetto. There were moments, like his devastating yowl at the end of the untitled song known as Vaka, when Jonsi’s voice nearly brought tears to the eyes. And during a solo segment of the epic Festival, he held a single note for an impossibly long time – half a minute? a full minute? long enough for fans to cheer more than once, that’s for sure – before stalking around the stage glaring into the audience, practically daring them to howl along with him.
Apart from Kveikur, Sigur Ros leaned most heavily on Takk… to stoke the Tampa audience. There were cheers of recognition for the grand and glorious Glosoli, during which Jonsi hunched over his bow and guitar, rocking out like a wizard; and for Saeglopur, a 7-minute epic that evolved from an icicle-like intro (plinked out on two pianos, a xylophone and a rack of bells, with Jonsi’s voice fluttering overhead) to a more traditional rock song to a majestic explosion of emotion.
Like all of Sigur Ros’ music, Saeglopur was heavy on the heartstrings, manipulating your emotions in much the same way that you find yourself choking up during TV dramas like Friday Night Lights and Parenthood. The stage, with its lush, panoramic video backdrop and light bulbs flashing through fog, only heightened the cinematic effect.
To outsiders, Sigur Ros may seem daunting, but to those who believe, it’s anything but. It’s the opposite of art-rock – call it heart-rock, because that’s where you feel it, even if you can’t describe the feeling. Sometimes, there simply are no words.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*