Review and photos by Keith Perks
Icelandic “post-rock” band Sigur Rós set out on a world tour recently and made a stop in Philadelphia at The Met. Hailing from Reykjavík, this band has been in existence since 1994. While popular in their home country, it wasn’t until 1999 that international acclaim arrived.
“Ágætis byrjun” was released in ’99 and over a period of two years, its popularity spread as critics and fans praised the album’s originality and eclectic sound. It also didn’t hurt that they began opening for well-known bands such as Radiohead. One large boost of popularity came by way of Cameron Crowe’s movie “Vanilla Sky,” which starred Tom Cruise, Penélope Cruz and Cameron Diaz. The soundtrack featured three of their songs.
Over the years since, the band has released multiple albums and received countless awards including a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album for “().”
The new tour announcement was released in February along with the news that they will be recording new material, the first since 2013’s “Kveikur.” Founding members Jónsi and Georg Holm were joined on this tour by long-time member Kjartan Sveinsson, and also Ólafur Björn Ólafsson (Óbó) on drums/percussion.
This was my second time seeing Sigur Rós and my first time shooting them. Ten years prior, they were scheduled to perform the Skyline Stage at The Mann Center. I immediatey put in a request and was approved right away by their manager. I was told to check back on the day of the show and unfortunately my name never made it to the box office and I couldn’t contact anyone in time, so I missed out. I did have a fantastic evening anyway and that’s where I first learned of their opener “Perfume Genius.” That concert, even though I didn’t get to shoot it, was in my Top 5 concerts ever. It was perfect.
This tour was smaller in scale. No orchestra sitting in with them this time around, but in many ways, it was more intense and larger in scope. The lighting of the tour and the sound of the venue were amazing and there was something about the venue that just added to the experience. It’s a great theater. All that and their setlist included a few heavier tracks, which gave fans more diversity. They had two releases since 2011 that brought in some darker themes. They mixed these songs in well, bringing us on a roller coaster of a performance.
This show gave us a selection from over 24 years of music and included some new songs as well. They kicked off the night with “Vaka” and weaved in and out of tracks like “Samskeyti,” “Svefn-g-englar” and “Smáskifa” before taking a short intermission.
When they arrived back on stage they started Set 2 with one of my favorites, “Glósóli.” The band then led us through an array of haunting and enchanting songs. As heavy and dramatic as they could play, they would also join closely with each other on stage during certain songs and play the most delicate and soft notes while Jónsi’s falsetto carried through The Met like it was church. It was chilling and beautiful.
The sound (and talent) of this band is enormous. Jónsi alone is a tiny man in stature, but with guitar in hand and in the middle of lights and lasers, he stands with his bow and mic like a god on stage. He fiercely slides his bow back and forth across his guitar strings like he’s summoning a legend from the dark ice caves of Vatnajökull. His guitar growls and screams and brings such intensity to songs, you sometimes feel like you’re at a heavy metal concert.
Sigur Rós was a bucket list band for me to shoot. I am so fortunate to not only have seen them again, it’s a rarity for them to be out on a world tour, but it was also an honor for me to capture the amazing moments of their concert.
The Met was crazy with applause during each set. Every person there knew exactly how special of a band they are and we all got lost in the music. “Festival,” “Kveikur” and “Popplagið” were the final three songs of the night and they raised us up, rattled us and challenged us, and set us back down gently to our seats.
It was with wonder and excitement that we started the show and it was with a spiritual sigh and enlightenment that we made our way back to our cars having just seen one of the best concerts we’d ever see again, until the next time they come to town.
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