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Brixton Academy, London Wednesday 9 November 2005
I arrive at the Brixton Academy an hour and 45 minutes after the doors opened, in a desperate attempt at avoiding tonight’s support act, Amina, who supported Sigur Rós the first time I saw them live in July in one of the outdoor concerts that made up the superb series held at Somerset House at the very peak of summer’s long days and orange sunsets, visually setting the scene perfectly for music as grand as that of the Icelanders.
If it were a lesser band headlining this evening, you could be forgiven for suspecting that Amina are simply here to make the headliners look good, as anybody could follow this group of librarian-lookalikes and emerge heralded as a combination of The Mars Volta and Rammstein in terms of sheer incendiary spectacle, but the fact is that a member of Amina is the girlfriend of Sigur Rós’s keyboardist, and presumably they’re not very fond of being separated for the duration of a tour.
Either way, the only way that they could hinder themselves even more from making meaningful music through using instruments that, let’s be frank, are just plain silly (a giant saw played with a xylophone mallet and bent to control pitch, and glasses of water, à la Miss Congeniality, amongst others) would be to add a noseflute player to their line-up.
Thankfully, I’ve timed my arrival almost to perfection, and I join the crowd just before the lights dim and Sigur Rós take the stage to deservedly rapturous applause.
They focus heavily on new album “Takk” for much of the performance, this a slight disappointment as it’s the least brilliant of their last three full-length releases, but tracks like “Glósóli” and “Heysátan” still manage to impress and hold the attention, especially with singer and “guitarist” (he plays his guitar with a cello bow) Jónsi’s superhumanly pitch-perfect vocals.
I’m standing right at the back of this large, fairly grand venue, and numerous times I hear people around me exclaiming in frustration that it’s “absolutely f***ing packed tonight” after they find themselves stuck at the back with me, unable to position themselves anywhere near a decent vantage point. I consider myself lucky to be here at all, having hurriedly snapped up one of the few remaining tickets about three or four months ago when I realised just how hotly-anticipated this tour was.
After winning the Shortlist Prize (an American award, which recognises artists based on artistic achievement rather than popularity or record sales) in 2001 for their second album, “Ágætis Byrjun”, the constantly-rising popularity that Sigur Rós are enjoying is a wonderfully-reassuring sign that uncompromising, progressive and, above all, interesting music is enjoying a massive resurgence in public acceptance.
This is a band whose shimmering washes of feedback over the course of anything from a five- to twelve-minute track can, like Opeth (hardly their musical contemporaries, yet I don’t feel foolish mentioning their names in the same breath), often evoke images of barren landscapes and icy tundra; the sort of immeasurably beautiful and harsh sights that both of their Scandinavian homes are famous for.
The number of goosebump-inducing moments tonight are plentiful, as always, and I leave the venue wondering what’s next for Jónsi and the others. A performance on Later With Jools Holland is to be screened tonight, and it may still be too early to tell, but perhaps Britain is starting to wake up again to the rich world of music that exists just outside of the mainstream, if only it has the curiosity to look for it.
Review: Nick Calverey