It was a cold and windy Melbourne night when I found myself wandering aimlessly around the perimeter of Festival Hall, finally navigating my way through a semi-dark alley to find Door 3 stashed away at the back of the building. My mum had spent the previous week warning me about what a hole Festival Hall is. “It was a dive when I saw the Bay City Rollers there, and I’m sure it’s not any better now!”. She’s not far wrong. Later on when I sent her a text message about how I’d paid $80 for the privilege of sitting in my plastic chair, she assured me that I should think myself lucky. “Back in my day, we had to sit on backless stools.” What a card!
But did I care about the dodgy seats by the time Icelandic gods Sigur Ros took the stage? Not a jot. Against a backdrop of white orbs that alternately glowed and reflected warm oranges and purples, Sigur Ros awed and inspired an adoring crowd. Uplifting melodies, cello bows on guitar strings and that angelic voice of Jonsi Birgisson’s all combined to send shivers down our collective spines. I’ve yet to find a definitive set list (‘Staralfur’ was the second song, I’m dead sure of it, yet on some set lists it’s credited as ‘Glosoli’) but I can vouch that highlights included ‘Hoppipolla’, ‘Festival’, ‘Saeglopur’ and ‘Inni mer syngur vitleysingur’.
‘Se Lest’ (one of my many favourites) was also gorgeous, with a horn section dressed completely in white entering from stage right and adding a great sense of fun to the occasion as they bobbed and weaved across the stage only to exit way too soon. However they did return to lend a hand to the second half of the show, with the set culminating in a rousing rendition of ‘Gobbledigook’, which was introduced in a rare speech from lead singer Jónsi. “During this song you should all be able to have a little…how do you say…clap”. All of those still sitting were then encouraged to stand and a rapid crowd handclap began that lasted through all the la-la-las and ooooooohs until the end, when a couple of horn players let off exploding cannons that set confetti fluttering over the ecstatic crowd. And to think when I first heard that track I didn’t like it. What a naïve fool I was.
After the foot-stamping sensation that was ‘Gobbledigook’ (I know, I bet that’s the first time you’ve ever read ‘foot-stamping’ in a Sigur Ros review), we all wanted more. The best thing about Festival Hall? Wooden floors. Makes begging for an encore a heck of a lot easier. Just sit on your plastic chair and stamp your feet madly on the floor. It’s impossible to resist. We got not one, but two encores. And in the dead silence that enveloped us as the last notes of the heartwrenching ‘All Alright’ faded away, I actually heard a woman sobbing in the seat behind me. I have to admit that I too shed a quiet tear at several points during the evening.
I’ve been to quite a few gigs in the last year – as many as is possible in Australia when it takes hours to get anywhere – and they’ve ranged from surprising (Scouting For Girls) to fun (Okkervil River) to awful (Augie March). Sigur Ros fits solely in the ‘magical’ category and I think I’ll have to go to a hell of a lot more gigs before I find anything else that even comes close. Sigur Ros – they’re in a class of their own.
Side note: Here at It All Started I try not to include any negative reviews – there’s enough negativity out there already without me having to add to it. However, I do feel compelled to say this: What on earth was the go with support act Pivot? If I wanted a headache I’d bash my head repeatedly against a brick wall. It don’t cost nothin’ and it wouldn’t hurt as much.
Image: You Ain’t No Picasso, Bonnaroo June 2008