Yesterday, I finally got to see Sigur Ros live. I have been listening quite carefully to them for years, but have never found the occation to see them live before. They played the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in downtown San Francisco. The Bill Graham is a pretty large venue with room for 7000 souls. It was sold out.
While it hurts a little to say it, the gig was somewhat underwhelming. First of all, they started by playing the first two-three songs behind a curtain. The curtain was used for projections, with the band barely visible. Now, the music is what matters of course, but part of the live experience is the personal feel. The curtain did not feel very personal. And while I’m sure the projections were great, I have long since disliked the excessive use of projections and video art on live music concerts. In my view, it distracts from the music most of the time. Nuvel. Another thing is that they could perfectly well have used a more transparent curtain. Projections would have worked just as fine; perhaps not the part where the lead singer (Jonsi) stood infront of a spotlight playing his guitar with a bow, I would not mind.
Things got more interesting once the curtain dropped. It turned out they were a bunch of people on stage. Four main members and perhaps six more on various horns and strings. The benefit of such a large ensemble is that one has much more depth and, in the case of Sigur Ros, it could be essential to pull off certain parts of their music that sometimes have many, many layers. (Their live album Inni demonstrates, however, that they work very well without orchestral backup.) The drawback is that the more people are involved, more stuff can go wrong. Wrong is perhaps strong (although they did mess up a couple of times; whether they were genuine fuckups or a technical errors, I do not know), but they were never really tight. They never nailed it. In periods, if felt like they did not even try. The beat on Popplagid was everywhere. Much of the music Sigur Ros make is pure magic, but their live performance last night was never really magic. Jonsi demonstrated a magic voice, but that was it. The crescendos was not as intense and sound-drenched as they should have been. The strings were too low. The guitar-bow thing was too low. Perhaps they had their heads elsewhere (Perhaps I had?) Perhaps they were exhausted after a long tour.
After all my whining, I should say I did enjoyt the concert. Sigur Ros makes really great music, and a slightly uninspired and cluttered performance cannot take the greatness away. Just too bad it did not really work out, because I think it could have been a blast if everything clicked and they’d just let go.
UPDATE: Walked by a homeless singing on the street the other day. Realized there is always some magic present when someone sings their heart out. Sigur Ros really did that, sing their heart out and created magic, I just missed it.