The title of Sigur Rós’ latest album, Valtari, is Icelandic for “steamroller,” and there is no better word to describe the band’s live shows than that one. The music slowly crushes you, flattening out any frustration, stress or anger out of the audience, leaving thousands of people staring trance-like at the beautiful lights.
Opener Perfume Genius seemed to confuse the crowd more than anything with short, abruptly ended piano tunes. Luckily though, they at least played until it started getting dark. How weird would it be to see Sigur Rós in the daylight?
This show, Sigur Rós’s first in New York in four years, attracted some serious diehard fans. The man standing next to me had even driven from North Carolina to see the group for the seventh time. The band was treated with reverence; when the music got quiet, so did the crowd. Though Sigur Rós sometimes only tours with four members, Tuesday’s show consisted of 11 musicians, including three horn players and three violinists. The extra hands on stage played a huge role in making the music as monolithic as it sounds on albums. Singer Jónsi Birgisson’s heavenly falsetto rang out loud and clear above the cymbal crashes and guitar growls, and it somehow sounded even more pure and pristine live than it does on the recordings.
Valtari has received mixed reviews, thanks to its largely ambient bend, but that didn’t keep the group from kicking off the show with “Ekki Múkk” and “Varúð,” the two largest, most powerful tracks from the album. Aside from those two songs, the night drew material from points throughout the band’s back catalog. I was surprised to hear raucous cheers of recognition after every songs’ first notes. While I knew Sigur Rós had a loyal fan base, it was hard to imagine that mostly instrumental music like this could drum up one so passionate.
The group handled its return to New York with grace and focus. Aside from a few brief “thank you”s, the night was all about the music. But this didn’t feel like a normal show. As the cinematic sounds plowed into the crowd, it felt more less like watching a concert and more like being swallowed up into a work of art.