Sigur Rós live in London: still the masters of swelling majesty

Celebrating 20 years of their ‘( )’ album and with a new record on the horizon, the Icelandic trio give a dazzling reintroduction

In the nine years since Sigur Rós last released an album with 2013’s ‘Kveikur’, the Icelandic band and its members have gone through many guises and tribulations. With founding member Kjartan Sveinsson (aka Kjarri) leaving just before ‘Kveikur’’s release, the then-trio’s drummer Orri Páll Dýrason left in 2018 after being accused of sexual assault by a fan, which he denies. Musically, they hosted ‘soundbaths’ in London’s Hyde Park through their Liminal ambient side-project, frontman Jón Þór Birgisson (aka Jónsi) made a surprise turn towards sticky, hyper-modern pop music on solo albums ‘Shiver’ and ‘Obsidian’, and the band opened 2022 by setting music to guided meditations. Though they’ve been away as Sigur Rós, they certainly haven’t been quiet.

With Kjarri back in the band and an eighth studio album on the horizon, the band’s current European tour serves as a reintroduction to their mesmerising world. Largely focused on their much-loved 2002 album ‘( )’ – you can say ‘Untitled’ out loud – but drawing from all corners of their discography, the show felt like more of a look back than an introduction to a new era. For those that needed the refresher though, the trio attacked it with all they had.

Sigur Rós’ greatest weapon has always been placing beauty next to destruction, and the two often overlap across a show stretching over two hours, so lengthy it needed an intermission. After the gorgeous, touching ‘Svefn-g-englar’, Jónsi conjures a storm with his iconic bowed guitar, whipping up noise like a hurricane for a delightfully dissonant interlude. A while later, he and bassist Georg Hólm (aka Goggi) create a wave of droning, dirty guitars which stop dead to be replaced by the twinkling, delicate opening piano notes of Sæglópur; the juxtaposition is consistently thrilling. The one new song share on the night, the soaring ‘Gold 2’, shows little deviation from the band’s bread and butter, but proves as potently beautiful as their best work.

Despite not saying a word to the crowd all night (in English at least – he mutters some Icelandic before the final song), Jónsi remains an outstanding showman through his voice alone. During the extended introduction to ‘Festival’, he holds a high note for an extraordinarily long time to rapturous applause – if you didn’t see the huge, hungry inhale he takes straight afterwards, you’d swear he wasn’t human. The ecstatic, euphoric melodies of the song’s triumphant finale that followed was the perfect release.

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A few minutes later, Jónsi was marching his band through roaring ‘( )’ closer ‘Untitled #8 (Popplagið)’ like they were on their way to war, kicking over his mic stand at its apocalyptic climax and exiting stage left before the ear-splitting noise subsides. Soundbaths and meditation soundtracks are in the rear view mirror now; tonight’s return sees Sigur Rós playing harder and heavier than ever.

Sigur Rós played:

‘Untitled #1 – Vaka’
‘Untitled #2 – Fyrsta’
‘Untitled #3 – Samskeyti’
‘Svefn-g-englar’
‘Rafmagnið búið’
‘Ný batterí’
‘Gold 2’
‘Untitled #7 – Dauðalagið’
‘Smáskifa’
‘Glósóli’
‘Untitled #6 – E-Bow’
‘Sæglópur’
‘Gong’
‘Andvari’
‘Festival’
‘Kveikur’
‘Untitled #8 – Popplagið’

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