April 8, 2013
Verizon Theatre at Grand Prairie
Grand Prairie, TX USA
Review by David Huff
Photos by Crystal Prather
Definitely an Acquired Taste
As I sat in stunned silence, shaking my head trying to figure out what kind of ambiance Sigur Rós was trying to accomplish with its music on stage, I recalled this scene from the movie Pretty Woman.
Richard Gere had flown Julia Robert's character Vivian up to San Francisco to see La Traviata performed live. He tells her that people's reactions to opera the first time they see it is very dramatic. They either love it or they hate it. If they love it, they will always love it. If they don't, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become part of their soul. Watching Sigur Rós perform was akin to going to the opera for the very first time. Vivian fell in love with what she experienced to the point she almost pee'd her pants. My initial encounter with Sigur Rós wasn't as dramatic. It was the most frustrating musical event I had ever witnessed. In all seriousness, I couldn't wait for the show to end so I could be the first one out the door, into my vehicle and out of the parking lot before anyone else showed up.
This 11-piece ensemble from Iceland is definitely an acquired taste. And frankly, I don't know if I could ever appreciate what it is this band creates. The lyrics make absolutely no sense. The songs, at best, would be okay elevator music. This group may be fine musicians, but whatever it is they are practicing on stage hits you one of two ways. You either love what you're hearing, or hate it. I was the latter. But that is my opinion, and tonight, it meant absolutely diddly-squat.
There were over 3,000 in attendance this evening that would vehemently argue that I was nothing but the village idiot, totally out of my mind, and I had absolutely no business reviewing this show. Maybe they are right, but the thing is, there was so much hype surrounding Sigur Rós - whose last major tour of the U.S. was 2008 - curiosity more than anything else drew me out to the Verizon Wireless Theater. As the night wore on, the exercise in futility would be 'much ado about nothing'.
I'm not off the mark when I say this music exported from Reykjavik has a dramatic effect on a person the first time they see this group live. And again, it's either going to be a positive or negative reaction. There is no gray area here. I should have known I was in for a long night by the opening act Sigur Rós chose to take with them on this leg of their tour.
I do want to go on record by saying this was perhaps the most gracious, polite crowd I have ever come across. The mettle of this audience was severely tested by the opening act, Oneohtrix Point Never. I'll say it as gently as I can. It was an outrageously stupid name for to describe the ridiculous sounds created by one Daniel Lopatin, a Brooklyn-based artist who calls himself an experimental musician. About the only talent the guy possessed was his ability turn an audience into mind-numbed robots with non-stop dribble he called music.
Lopatin was pathetically boring. It was almost a blessing that his onstage performance was hidden behind a terry cloth curtain. He was bathed in a single purple spotlight that thankfully behind a curtain that thankfully never opened to reveal this lame specter. Honestly, it was more entertaining watching the solitary figures in the pit, standing at attention not moving a muscle, as Lopatin jumped about pushing buttons and keys on his array of electronic synthesizers. Observing these stoic minions just stand in hushed silence, as Oneohtrix attempted to create some sort of intelligent sound with his keyboards, was absurd as well as funny. Before I got dumbed down by sound, I left my seat to get some fresh air, even if it was in the smoking section outside the venue doors.
I should have known that Oneohtrix Point Never would be a precursor to what was going to be a difficult night of entertainment at best. I had already been informed by a Sigur Rós devotee that the band would NOT be performing several of their hits, including "Hoppipolla", "Staralfur", "Samskeyti" and "Gobbledygook". And yes, I had help with the spelling of these rather Klingon-esque words. I was assured there were would be some fan disappointment as the show unwound without these tunes being played, but not enough to upset anyone. Maybe that's the reason Lopatin was the opening act, to thoroughly test the patience of this audience so nothing the headliners omitted from their set would disappoint anyone.
I love this opening paragraph in Wikipedia to describe Sigur Rós. It says the band is an "Icelandic ambient / post rock band from Reykjavik who has been active since 1994. They are known for their ethereal sound, singer Jonsi Birgisson's falsetto vocals, and the use of a bowed guitar. The band's music is also noticeable for its incorporation of classical and minimalist aesthetic elements." If that explanation isn't enough to confuse the hell out of you, I don't know what is. Oh yes, the group is named after Birgisson's sister, Sigurros Elin, who was born on the same day the band was formed in 1994. I'm assuming the siblings are quite close despite the nearly two decade age difference between them.
This crowd exploded with appreciation when Sigur Rós took the stage within the confines of the terry cloth curtain. There was also little doubt those in attendance were hooked on phonics the very moment they were first exposed to one or all of this group's five studio albums recordings released from 1997 to 2008. I'm also assuming that the unusual lyrics accompanying the music, called "Hopelandic", was too an intriguing factor to the group's allure. For those of you not in the know, "Hopelandic" is an 'invented language' in which Birgisson sings unintelligible lyrics. It is not an actual language by definition (no vocabulary, grammar, etc.), but rather a form of gibberish vocals created to fit the music and act as another instrument. And you wonder why the 'genesis' of this band, for me, lay in the 'land of confusion.'
I may have been in complete ignorance of all things Sigur Rós, but again, this audience most definitely was not. They not only understood the various compositions performed throughout the evening, they often cheered very loudly when the opening chords were played to various songs. The various components of the songs held special meaning to each and every person here tonight. I dare say no one could tell you exactly why they held this band in such high esteem - nor should they even make an attempt to do so. This music was very personal to each and every one of the 3000 people who paid a handsome price to be absorbed into the Sigur Rós universe.
Perhaps that mystery instilled by the faux language, and creative use of various instruments, is the reason this band has such an intense and loyal fan base. Seriously, this crowd understood and somehow anticipated every song performed. There was a multitude of instruments used to create the sonic effects that was also highlighted by dazzling light displays. The visual displays, which were quite artful, were projected on the backdrops and created a captivating 'aurora borealis' effect on stage. The moody graphics not only breathed life into Sigur Rós songs, but gave each number a sense of energy as well.
It's tough to admit there are bands outside my scope of comprehension. This was one very rare occasion where I admit the music simply defeated my senses. In the grand scheme of things, my critiques of Sigur Rós means very little. At the end of the night, this 'pretty woman' named after Birgisson's sister was a joy to all of those in attendance. Thousands walked out of the Verizon Theater happy and content they had witnessed something quite unique and meaningful to them this warm April evening. When you stop and think about it, if you take something away from a concert, good or bad, that's exactly what music is supposed to do - elicit emotion. Never mind the comments of 'grumpy old men'.