Sigur Rós @ Salle Wilfred-Pelletier – May 30th 2017

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Full disclosure: for the life of me, I can’t name more than one Sigur Rós song off the top of my head. But even with this personal failing, I have had a deep appreciation for the dreamy Icelandic post-rock outfit since I first heard “Starálfur” during the climax of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. My reference to a Wes Anderson movie soundtrack is not, however, a last-ditch bid for indie cred. Instead, I mean to highlight the band’s cinematic and emotional qualities, and how they use sound and light to transcend language and – as the kids say – hit you right in the feels. When I walked out of Salle Wilfred-Pelletier on Tuesday night, I was at a loss for words to describe my immediate reaction. I only had one: “beautiful”.

For the first of a two-night residency at Place Des Arts, Sigur Rós floated onto the stage as a trio – a departure from their last visit to Montreal back in 2013, when they were flanked by strings and horns. But this is a band that is way more focused on crafting transportive soundscapes than just shutting up and playing the hits – so with a more streamlined setup and after years of breathing room, the Icelanders came right out of the gate with a transcendent new track called “Á”. Showcasing frontman Jónsi Birgisson’s falsetto and backed by light bass, steady percussion, synth tones, and elaborate rear-projections of stormy weather, “Á” set an early tone of reflection and hope for the set.

This vibe is definitely in the band’s wheelhouse – and even in the dim lighting of the Place Des Arts floor, I could see smiling audience members close their eyes and lean back to bask in the firefly light of “Ekki Múkk” and the spritely “Glósóli”. Still, the latter song’s triumphant crescendo into firing strobes and drum-mallet-flurries should be taken as Exhibit A that, even with Jónsi’s trademark vocals and frequent use of a cello-bowed guitar, Sigur Rós is no one-trick pony. In fact, both of the night’s sets (separated by a comfortable Place Des Arts intermission) drew liberally from the band’s whole discography and spectrum of feelings.

Part of the credit goes to the trio’s patience to let their songs organically ebb, flow, build and release. But special congratulations are also due to whoever designed the deceptively elaborate lighting setup, which balanced crisscrossing LEDs, rear projection, sliding overheads, and strobes to create a completely unique visual for each song. Whether it was fields of glowsticks, dancing scanner-bars, projections of pastoral cliffs, or – in the case of “Sæglópur” – a mid-song shift from icy blue Tron lasers to exploding stars, the stage setup made a pretty convincing argument for relaxed audience members to keep their damn eyes and ears open.

Nowhere was this sound/sight synergy stronger than during the minimalist “Untitled #1”, which doubled down on the rear-projections to create near-holographic representations of a red pointillist post-apocalypse – the perfect companion to the mournful keyboard chords that soldier on long after the fiery emotional peaks have passed.

It took the final song of the night to bring audience members out of their seats, otherwise politely transfixed by the prestige and pitch-perfect acoustics that come as a package deal with Salle Wilfred-Pelletier. Still, after a few brave souls stood up to start dancing to the Radiohead-rock and unraveling of the nearly 15 minute “Popplagið”, the rest of the audience rose to their feet to show their appreciation to the band. There was no encore – only three rounds of the band coming back out to return the crowd’s applause with their own gratitude. In the end, given the language barrier, the band was also left with only one word for us, projected up on the screen: “Takk.”

“Thanks.”
Sigur Rós Set 1:

1. Á
2. Ekki Múkk
3. Glósóli
4. E-Bow
5. Dauðalagið
6. Niður
7. Varð

Sigur Rós Set 2:

1. Óveður
2. Sæglópur
3. Ný Batterí
4 Vaka
5. Festival
6. Kveikur
7. Fljótavík
8. Popplagið

Review – Dan Corber

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