Mavis's Dream Four








Sigur Ros

Gaukur Á Stöng, Reykjavik, Iceland, 25/10/00


You may remember we raved about Sigur Rós last issue. So disastrous was the Godspeed debacle in Bristol that Sigur Rós’s clarity came shining through, a bright light in a sea of deep blue mediocrity. So a chance to see them in a small intimate club in their native Iceland was not an opportunity to be passed up quickly.

And, in fact, in Iceland they are the biggest band right now. Full stop. Winners of five Iceland music awards last year, and their last album Ágætis byrjun being the best thing in Icelandic music since, well, Björk did all the kooky space muffin stuff. To death. With fish heads and all. So when Mavis and Mandi happened to be, well, honeymooning in Reykjavik, and, by chance (ha!) Sigur Rós, well, you know, just happened to BE PLAYING A GIG IN A SMALL INTIMATE CLUB, they just had to be at the front of the queue in Arctic conditions, even beating oddly dressed batty American women eager to tug at Jónsi’s woolly hat flaps, thereby ensuring a prime spot and the much coveted ticket numbers 001 and 002. Odd, these Icelandic traditions of selling tickets for the biggest band in the country on the door, but there you go. It is a wet Wednesday night, Icelanders only ever thinking about the mammoth task of drying their hair in order to go out on a Friday or a Saturday, so maybe it was about a last minute decision to go out. “What’s happening tonight, Heiðar dear?” “Well, my dearest Magga, we either have the third repeat today of Silikon on Iffureinn TV, complete with homoerotic whipped cream wrestlers trying to rip clothes from each other, or we have Sigur Rós playing in town. Now hurry up and eat your haddock, or we’ll miss them again.”

So on entrance we dump our coats and regret it instantly. You would not expect a club in Iceland, of all places, to have air conditioning. Like it wasn’t cold enough already. And inside is a local authority fire officer’s nightmare; candles, nightlights, incense. You almost expect the fire alarm to go off any second and, when it finally does, it’s reassuring that no-one moves from their carefully guarded spots. The incense smells delightfully pongy. Singer / SR visionary Jónsi mingles with the crowd, who seem to be made up almost exclusively of people who know him. This is a country of little more than 270,000 people, you know. And black volcanic earth, yellowy grass and big wide open spaces of nothing where it gets dark very quickly. And where bands play gigs on a raft in the middle of a volcanic crater called Kerið. But not our own Sigur Rós, oh no.

There’s a table right in front of the stage which has big signs on it that say, presumably, reserved. Quite why, no-one seems to really know. It might not in fact say reserved, but maybe keep off unless you understand this sign. Icelandic is a beautiful looking language, but is quite incomprehensible to almost anyone but the locals. Maybe this is why Sigur Rós have such an ethereal, magic quality; their entire repertoire is in Icelandic; their name means Victory Rose, named after Jónsi’s little sister. Their last album Agætis Byrjun was a magnificent affair, full of slow, brooding masterpieces full of wonder and despair. This show, though, relies little on these past glories and instead showcases the future, where they’re going rather than where they’ve been. A year ago in Bristol they were fantastic; no-one even knew who they were yet they outperformed a diffident and boring Godspeed. Here, on home turf, surrounded by friends and worshippers, they are simply magnificent. Like in Bristol, barely a word is spoken; the band just stand there and play. And how do they play. Each song—song seems the wrong word here almost, it goes way beyond what you might regard as the conventional rock or pop song, far beyond the usual verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus format—is like a kick in the guts, only a good kick. There are times of sublimeness, when you know that only a band this good can do this amount of good things to your soul. They cleanse, they purge, they build up and build and build and build more until the release finally comes, and each time you know during the building that the release is going to be so, so good that you can barely wait, yet you still want to because you want each second to last as long as possible, and when the climax comes you just want it to go on and on. The loud “bridge” in Svefn-G-Englar. The loud bits in Nýja Lagið. The majestic bowing of Jónsi’s guitar, just about everywhere. The drumming at the end of Pop Song when Orri Páll Dyrason pounds his kit into submission, rapid rapid beats for nearly five minutes. And then off.

Words can’t really describe the majesty of this gig, the intimacy, the power. When they bring on folk singer Steindór Anderson they combine ancient Icelandic tradition with modern, bringing out beautifully modern classic lullabies, long warbling songs with undoubtedly a tradition behind them. It’s amazing. And the traditional moment when Jónsi sings into his guitar pick ups at the end of Svefn-G-Englar never fails to astound.

Yes, there are the usual complaints; the club was well oversold, and as usual around the two bars—one next to the stage, no less– there were too many of the Icelandic hipsters hanging out to be seen there, chatting away as if Sigur Rós where little more than a mildly diverting sideshow. But in a show this good, this life-affirming, this amazing, such niggles are merely that. At the height of their powers, Sigur Rós tonight produced something special and powerful. Currently they’re working on their new album, but you MUST catch them the next time they’re in the country. That’s an order, Swindon.