At some point in mythical history, a child must have fallen from the sky slowly and peacefully, basked in light and eased down gently through the atmosphere by nurturing celestial forces.
“Many of the night’s best numbers were based around a seemingly lackadaisical groove, the swaying pocket that categorizes much of the band’s output.”
Its pure conjecture, but it feels like a fairly plausible explanation as to how the beautifully pained and fragile creature known as Jónsi, the enigmatic, howling, guitar-bowing leader of Sigur Rós, manifested himself in our realm. Really, so much of the towering Icelandic band’s elegance and heft come from the vagueness in interpreting the band’s dynamic; the music soars with an openness and resolution to be confident, yet wildly encouraging of variances in perception.
Sigur Rós’ latest album, Valtari, is a generally quiet and sobering collection of pieces, dreamy dirges that grow slower and less precariously than the band has ever quite demonstrated. During the group’s first New York concert in four years at Prospect Park though, such contemplation wasn’t at the forefront. The band’s last tour saw performances as a stripped-down four-piece, often to mixed results. The simplicity and rawness was startling, but reaching for such heights necessitates more of a gargantuan, powerfully tuned vessel.
This time around, Sigur Rós brought some reinforcements. Flanked by a large horn and string section, the band also added three new members to replace multi-instrumentalist and long time member Kjartan Sveinsson, who sat this tour out. It was an exponentially more muscular showing, returning to the unique template set earlier in the band’s history. They played only two of their new tracks at the beginning of the concert, the ambient “Ekki Múkk” and the album’s lead single “Varúð”, whose tortured strings and thundering stomp played well with the rest of the classic material Sigur Rós delved into throughout the show.
The rest was a steady, pulsing build up that hardly let up until the climatic song in the encore, “Popplagið (Untitled #8).” Many of the night’s best numbers were based around a seemingly lackadaisical groove, the swaying pocket that categorizes much of the band’s output. The significance of rhythm and bass to Sigur Ros’ ceaselessly urging pace might be largely unappreciated when compared with Jónsi’s otherworldly voice, but on songs like “Olsen Olsen” and “Hoppípolla,” the round and fertile drumming of Orri Páll Dýrason and the insistent push of bassist Georg Hólm provided structure to music that could easily turn into a massively colorful, atmospheric puddle of Jell-O without it. Extra sprightly songs like “Vaca” and “Svefn-g-englar” saw some of their falsetto and melodic attack played down, making each peak and parabolic swing of Jónsi’s voice that much more satisfying.
Eventually, once the build up was at the right point, the musical meniscus straining from atmospheric pressure, the band fully realized the giant release everyone laying on the park lawn under a canopy of trees and gently piercing street light, thoughts and feelings meandering, had waited for. “Hafsól,” the set closer and standout performance was typical Sigur Rós, instruments and swells and vagueness and distraught walls of distortion all rolled up neatly and resolutely.