As the legend would have it, Thom Yorke, after a grueling international tour in support of OK Computer, was nearing nervous breakdown, his faith in music practically bankrupt. That is until he chanced upon an album unlike anything he had ever heard before, by an unknown band from Iceland, of all places. Reinvigorated, and with a grander conception of the heights to which music can ascend, the Radiohead frontman went on to oversee the composition of one of the greatest, most original albums of the 2000s, Kid A. Naturally, Yorke invited his new muse to open for them on tour. That band, Sigur Rós, will be in Pittsburghat Stage AE.
Any discussion of Sigur Rós must begin with Ágætis Byrjun, that sensational album that snuck up on Thom Yorke and the rest of world like a dormant volcano erupting to life. At the time of its domestic release, in 1999, practically no one outside of tiny Iceland had heard of Sigur Rós. (They had released one previous album, Von, in 1997) The buzz increased, slowly, peaking in 2000 when the album was released in Britain, followed by the States one year later.
Just how magnificent is Ágætis Byrjun? Stylus magazine said “...a hundred years from now we'll still be singing the praises of this album,” while Pitchfork tossed around phrases like “soul-crushingly beautiful.” Orchestral strings quavering with emotion, exploding fireworks, Jónsi's angelic falsetto... it is life, in all its agony and ecstasy, condensed and distilled into auditory rapture.
Suddenly renowned, Sigur Rós followed up with more albums. 2002 saw (), an eight song suite that starts at a whisper and ends in a roar, and in 2005, Takk, a sort of Ágætis Byrjun 2.0. The next record, 2008's Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalausti, saw a shift toward pop sensibilities, with the release of a three minute single and a song in English. (Until then all songs were in either Icelandic or Vonlenska, a made-up language that sounds like Icelandic, for those who can tell the difference.)
Today the band is down to three members: Georg Hólm, bassist; Orri Páll Dýrason, drummer; and frontman/vocalist/guitarist Jón Þór Birgisson, better known as Jónsi. Keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson left the group last year, and while no one will confuse them with Rush or Cream, Sigur Rós does the “power trio” label well in their new album, Kveikur, which is heavier and more aggressive than anything they've put out before. (You'd never guess that just two years earlier the same Jimmy Page-guitar bow playing Jónsi composed the lovable score to We Bought a Zoo.)
The official Sigur Rós website promises an 11-piece live band. Music of such grandeur translates extremely well to stage, so prepare to be uplifted. There is a reason directors like Wes Anderson, Cameron Crowe, and Danny Boyle have continually chosen music by Sigur Rós to play during the climactic denouements to their movies: this is life-affirming stuff.
Tickets cost $42.60 and can be purchased here. Julianna Barwick opens.