When the bassist and guitarist for Sigur Ros took the stage Thursday night at the sold-out Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, they each looked 12 feet tall.
I wasn’t tripping yet because the music hadn’t started. So I’m guessing it was an illusion, what with the video screens in effect lowering the apparent height of the stage.
Illusion is one of the things that makes Sigur Ros so mesmerizing.
There are clearly more sounds than a guitarist, bassist and drummer/keyboardist are making. There is a dizzyingly hypnotic array of visuals depicted on video walls that surround three sides of the stage – water rippling, a series of red matrices, blinding lasers, stylized fireworks, floating geometrics, etc. And the three musicians are somewhere amid the thick stage fog and hazy lights.
The lyrics, the few that there are, are an illusion, too. This Icelandic band sings in Hopelandic, a constructured language, without semantic meaning but with Icelandic phonology. In other words, it sounds Icelandic but it’s not. Hence, it’s all about the feeling that lead singer/guitarist Jonsi puts into the performance.
Jonsi has a fascinatingly alluring voice; imagine a squeal with a falsetto that’s on pitch and passionate. OK, it’s manipulated through technology. An illusion, once again.
As a guitarist, he favors using a bow, much like Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, with lots of special effects. In fact, a Sigur Ros show feels like multiple special effects that have a special affect on listeners.
Thursday’s first set was more meditative, with a quiet intensity to the droning minimalism. The second set featured harder, almost industrial sounds but they were never harsh and you certainly didn’t need earplugs. During "Staralfur," it felt like you were inside an old-school video game with explosions happening all around you.
At the beginning of the second set, with the three musicians – Jonsi, bassist Georg Holm and keyboardist Orri Pall Dyrason – performing behind a LED video wall, it almost looked as if they were standing elsewhere and only appearing on the screen. A grand illusion.
Thursday’s two-hour Sigur Ros concert was trippier than a Pink Floyd show. At least for my money. No need to have to interpret what “Comfortably Numb” and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” mean. I’d prefer the dark side of Jonsi any time.