The Uptown Theater
Better Than: The brie and bacon panini at Pangea on 39th Street.
By JASON HARPER
Photos by SCOTT SPYCHALSKI
Reykyavik felt like a neighboring burg last night at the Uptown as otherwise exotic orchestral rock heroes Sigur Rós played a warm, unindulgent, no-nonsense show before an atypically quiet and respectful sold-out crowd. At least, I didn't hear anyone yelling WOOOOO YEAAHAHAHA PLAY BLINGABLAAAAAH during the silent interludes between slowly unfurling then pausing piano chords in that second-to-last song, which is usually what you get at the Uptown. But not tonight, and I don't think it was merely because no one knows how to pronounce the band's song titles -- that wouldn't stop most drunks from bellowing. (By the way, if you were expecting me to name the songs or provide a set list, you're speakin' Hopelandic, son.)
Nay, last night, 'twas churchlike.
I mean, hell, during the one time I ran to get a drink, during that familiar-bass-riff song off the first album ("Olsen Olsen," I'm pretty sure), the Nowhere Bar was really living up to its name, with about four people in it, one of whom announced that two tornados had hit the Downtown Airport, which I of course believed, because the Sigur Rósians are age-old enemies of the Norse god Odin, bringer of storms.
But conservatory-like atmosphere aside (and if you got sodomized by a bunch of loud apes up in the balcony, then, sorry, I didn't notice the disturbance), the band played a fantastic, aurually brilliant set. Aside from a mic squeal here and there, it was like listening to the group's CDs on hi-fi. I remember seeing the band play Jimmy Kimmel or Cason Daly back in the day, and even on my shitty '84 vintage TV, lead singer and guitarist Jonsi Birgisson's castrati-like croon sounded pristine coming through that crap speaker. Live, the boy is seraphic.
The four band members (covering keys, bass guitar, drums, guitar) were joined on stage by a string quartet of women players in flowing spring dresses and a five-piece brass band in white uniforms, which made its first appearance during the third song, marching on stage and adding a dash of Sgt. Pepper to the Rós' celestial music box before marching off.
The folks on stage ranged from scruffy
I will say that the show skewed on the gentle side; folks expecting bombast, waves hitting the fjords in drum-and-bowed-Jimmy-Page-guitar fury, or the theatrical eye candy of the previous Takk tour, were probably disappointed. But if anyone has a hard time getting swept up in the current of an artsy, slow, dynamic concert from the back of a huge auditorium, it's me, and I was getting a soul-membrane rubdown from the fourth row from the back on the floor. It was nice.
The show began with "Svefn-g-Englar," that 10-minute, submarine-pinging first song off the group's breakthrough release, Agaetis Byrjun, and it ended with Rós' bright, new, accessible single "Gobblidegook." (Sorry, no nude frollicking on stage, but there was brief usage of a streamer cannon or two from members of the marching band.)
For the encore, the group performed the haunting, sparse, lullabylike "All Alright," from the new one, titled Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust. "Alright" allegedly has English lyrics. If that's truly the case, then, by all means, play it at my funeral.
The opening act was actually Sigur's trombone player, who, apparently, moonlights as a fairly standard, English-lyricizing acoustic singer-songwriter. Didn't catch his name, but he was as gracious and humble an opener as you're likely to see, thanking everyone -- the crowd for being there, Sigur for letting him open for them, God for making the trees grow and the sun shine, etc. His first song, if it was a song, consisted of him announcing his arrival on stage with a random trombone fluorish and the shouted/sung line It's on, it's off! It's on, it's off! Some girl a few rows ahead of me shouted drolly, "My sweater's on and off." After that, the kid did OK. His songs were melancholy, pleasant and forgettable in a forget-me-not kind of way.
Personal Bias: Slow pretty stuff puts me to sleep, usually.
Random Detail: The brie and bacon panini at Pangea on 39th Street is really fucking good.
By the Way: Sigur Rós songs are not songs. They're lays.