Yesterday was the Faithful Writer conference (which I’ll write about later). I helped out with regos, gave a seminar with Karen and read some of my fiction to an appreciative crowd. But it was an exhausting nine and a half hours! Guan and I decided to chill out for a couple of hours before heading in to the Hordern to see Sigur Rós with Duncan.
M had made a delicious vegetable curry and welcomed me with a glass of wine. I lay on the couch trying to do my best impression of someone who cares about sport while Guan and M watched the Bledisloe Cup (I didn’t do a very good job). We ate, drank some coffee, then Duncan joined us and we headed off.
The bus was full of carousers heading into the city. It was noisy and bright and I felt like I just wanted to curl up on the seat and go to sleep. But by the time we got into the Hordern and found our seats, I had revived somewhat (we had made the judgement call early on that after being at a conference all day we probably wouldn’t be up to standing in a crowd for three hours…I’m glad we opted for the seats!). We caught the end of a set by Pivot, which I enjoyed mainly for the incredibly meaty drum sound and the excitement of just being there.
The music between acts was sort of floaty and ethereal, which was fine in some ways and in keeping with the music we were going to hear, but unfortunately for three very tired people it just made us feel a bit sleepy. “I wish we had some gummi bears,” I said, and Guan dutifully produced half a bag of gummy dinosaurs. Perfect wish fulfilment!
The lights dimmed and the crowd roared as the four members of Sigur Rós walked onstage, dressed variously in frock coats, tails, and what looked like a boiler suit. I had had the strains of Svefn-g-englar running through my head all afternoon, so I grinned when the band came out and started with that song. I don’t know the whole of their back catalogue – actually, I only really know Ágætis Byrjun and their latest, Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust – so much of the set wasn’t hugely familiar to me, but that didn’t seem to matter in terms of enjoying the music.
They painted amazing soundscapes with rollicking drums, cello-bowed guitar, drumstick-beaten bass, glockenspiel, vibraphone, piano, brass…a constant swirl and propulsion of sound with Jónsi Birgisson’s otherworldly voice floating and screeching and hovering over the top of it all.
“We’ll need your help for this one,” he said in his thick Icelandic accent towards the end of the show. “Can you clap along with us?” Then they launched into Gobbledigook, from their new album. The song has a childlike quality to it, with fast clapping and a ‘la-la-la-la’ refrain, but the most incredble energy in the relentless drumming. It has an almost yearning, impossible-joy feeling to it. The entire room seemed to be riding a wave of delight, as the lighting, which had been in sombre blues and greenish yellows up until that point, exploded into colour, and the brass players let off confetti cannons from either side of the stage. The crowd squealed like children. It reminded me so much of what happened at Bjork’s concert that I wonder if it’s something in their cultural makeup, this propensity for creating simple pleasures, for the joy of pure sound and shimmering light and fluttering bits of glittery paper falling through the air.
Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust translates as ‘with a buzz in our ears we play endlessly’. At times, despite my tiredness, I wished it would just keep going and going. I wasn’t the only one, judging by the way the 6000-strong audience screamed and stamped on the floor for more. The band did two encores, and ended with an almost humble bow, as at the end of a theatre show.
PS. Also, if you’ve ever wanted to know how to pronounce Icelandic words check this out.
PPS. If you want to be superior and pronounce the band’s name correctly, it’s “si-ur rose (the i is like the i in “hit”. “rose” is said very quickly)”. Roll those Rs!