This one will be short. I didn't understand a single word that Jónsi sang Thursday night. I didn't know when he was singing in his native Icelandic versus that imaginary Hopelandic; it may have been Elvish, for all I know. All that matters is that Sigur Rós, backed by strings and brass, and some extraordinary visuals, transformed Stage AE into a near-magical fantasia.
I'm not sure what song the band opened with, though I'm certain it was off of their latest album, Kveikur, like the majority of the songs they performed. The title translates to “fuse,” as in dynamite, and that is a good metaphor for the band's sound on this tour. Sigur Rós is a rock band at heart, and time and time again they unleashed swells of guitar and pummeling bass kicks you could feel in your chest. But they do not rely on the conventional soft-heavy-soft formula utilized by most post-rock bands, such as Explosions in the Sky and Mono; Sigur Rós manages different suites of varying moods to compose an entire symphony of music.
Epic is a word most overused, but it is appropriate when describing the grandness of this band's presentation. They performed in front of an enormous screen that displayed images of universal significance: sky, sea, forest, the cosmos. Some two dozen light-bulbs atop mic stands were sprinkled around the stage, helping with the band's mythic image; at times, when the light dimmed, they appeared woodland sprites in a field of fireflies. Absent intelligible lyrics to follow, Jonsi's otherworldly falsetto became a fervent cry of beauty, awash in the plaintive bellow of French horn and the clang and clatter of glockenspiel and symbols.
The night was a testament to the transcendence of music as art, and its ability to elevate and uplift the soul. It seems impossible that someone, regardless of race, creed, or 21st century cynicism, could not be aroused with emotion during a heavenly version of “Olsen Olsen” - the only song performed off of their seminal Ágætis Byrjun – or the furious closer, “Untitled 8.” At the end, the band and their mini-orchestra came out together, and in a very cordial, heartfelt way took a bow together, to thank the audience and placate the unfulfilled cries for an encore. It was a traditional end from a trio of men still at music's vanguard.
The crowd was a generally polite lot, with all age brackets well-represented. I say polite especially after they gave opener Julianna Barwick a healthy applause, even though as far as I could tell the set involved her and a bored-looking guitarist noodling around with ambient loops, in front of a screen displaying slow-motion close-ups of women in sweaters underwater. Beauty may be universal, but it is certainly not ubiquitous.