REVIEW: Sigur Ros at the Riverside Theater

Legendary Icelandic post-rockers Sigur Ros arrived at the Riverside Wednesday night for their first Milwaukee show in sixteen years. A friend of mine introduced me to their 2013 album “Kveikur” my senior year of high school; I’ve been determined to see them since.

Sigur Ros comprises of vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Jonsi, bassist/pianist/glockenspielist Goggi, and syntheiszer/keyboardist/wind instrumentalist Kjarri while their touring drummer is known as Obo. They formed in Reykjavik in 1994; their name means “Victory Rose” in Icelandic and is also Jonsi’s younger sister’s name. The band, often classified in the realm of post-rock, is unique among such bands in a variety of ways – most notably that they incorporate vocals whereas most post-rock bands are entirely instrumental. In fact, Jonsi sings in both Icelandic and the band’s own made-up “Hopelandic,” gibberish vocalizations of syllables and phonemes. Additionally, Jonsi is known for playing bowed guitar. The band’s sound is conjured through traditional rock, classical, and electronic instruments, containing stylistic elements of ambient, dream pop, and art rock. Their music can be bright or dark, quiet or loud, and buoyant or melancholy while retaining constants of adventurousness and splendor.

Their debut album “Von” came out in 1997, emphasizing droning dark ambience and noisy soundscapes. Then their breakthrough album was 1998’s “Agaetis Byrjun” which deviated heavily from the previous album’s sound in favor of more orchestration and bowed guitar work. After creating an EP in 2001 titled “Rimur” with an Icelandic fisherman-musician, the band’s third album “()” was released in 2002 and became their first to use Hopelandic. 2005’s “Takk…” saw the band expanding their use of guitar, and 2006’s “Meo suo i eyrum vio spilum endalaust” became their most pop-accessible effort and precursor to playing large-scale music festivals worldwide. They went on to release a live album and DVD titled “Inni” in 2011, and then returned to a minimalist, orchestral approach for 2012’s “Valtari. “Kveikur” was released in 2013 and is their most recent album, finding them going in a darker and more aggressive direction.

Sigur Ros played two sets Wednesday as they have been this tour. Their first set consisted of mostly gentler and ambient material, featuring many songs from their “()” and “Agaetis Byrjun” eras. After a twenty-minute intermission, the band returned for their louder and rock-oriented second set; this is where they dove into a number of “Takk…” songs. Only two unreleased songs were played the whole night with one in each set. Their stage design was extravagant with towering and carefully arranged light displays, vibrant color combinations, and surreal imagery ranging from peoples’ faces to flames to water animations. Whether the spotlight was centered on Jonsi for his hauntingly intimate solo deliveries, or the stage was fired up for the band’s grandiose codas, it all made for a bewitching and dreamlike experience.

Word on the street is that Sigur Ros are working on a new album.

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