LIVE REVIEW: Sigur Rós + Tim Hecker @ Madison Square Garden

Sigur Ros

Words by Andrew Parks

“When we performed downstairs at the Madison Square [Garden] Theater in 2006, Billy Joel was doing a 15-night run above us,” Sigur Rós wrote in a message to fans earlier this month. “That seemed like the right order of things. And yet, here we are, two weeks out from what we can only described as the big one!”

‘The big one’ happened to be MSG itself (capacity for concerts: 20,000) on Monday night, which the band filled, sonically and physically, better than anyone we’d seen there in years. As promised, the power trio–now sans multi-instrumentalist Kjartan “Kjarri” Sveinsson for the first time since 1998–and a well-rehearsed cleanup crew presented “a bunch of new songs and all the stuff we currently love the most from our back pages, all set to the best and brightest production we’ve ever managed to cram in a small fleet of trucks.” Which meant a mix as savage as Sigur Rós’ new single, “Brennisteinn,” a track that sounds like it was co-produced by Trent Reznor and remixed by Skrillex, only to be abruptly pitched down and saved from the tired post-dubstep tactics of token arena rockers like Muse…

Having seen Sigur Rós play a couple times before–including that aforementioned MSG Theater show–we were blown away by several glaring consistencies at their biggest North American gig yet, beginning with the heavy-handed mood they deftly manipulated for nearly two hours. Unlike the pockets of light that flooded their last couple releases, this spring’s Kveikur LP appears to have pushed the group back towards the bleak but beautiful territory of their breakthrough albums. More importantly, they’re as harmonic and heavy as they’ve ever been, embodying the English translation of last year’s Valtari full-length (“Steamroller”) in better-late-than-never fashion.

It helped having Tim Hecker open, too, since it meant not having to deal with another band’s complicated sound check–one Canadian and a laptop cloaked by a massive curtain is about as simple as an arena setup gets–and it set the scene perfectly, upsetting the equilibrium of anyone expecting a normal set with the producer’s tectonic plate shifts and artful waves of ambient noise. Having one of William Basinski’s “Disintegration Loops” clear the crowd’s palette even further as Iceland’s alien heroes fine-tuned their instruments sealed the deal even further.

Since the only clear lyrics in a Sigur Rós set are often incorrect interpretations (‘Hopelandic’ phrases lacking any connective tissue beyond the word “you”), we’re now going to share some of our free associative notes from yesterday–an exorcism that kicked in quite early, as the closing chords of “Ny Batterí” coincided with sputtering strobe lights, straight-jacketed rhythms and our first whiff of second-hand pot smoke…

– looks like Tim Hecker isn’t the only one hiding behind a curtain tonight

– lights scraping the sides in pale green and blue hues

– hopelandic in full effect, beats have become more prominent

– someone’s been listening to Purity Ring

– what a violent guitar lead, one that matches the curtain’s funhouse distortions perfectly

– cocoon curtain comes down near the end of “ny battery”

– weird hearing people cheer for a hopelandic hook like it’s some radio hit

– “you sat along the fire/ you suffer, alone” (totally not the right lyrics)

– the band’s now surrounded by candle-like bulbs and bathed in blood red lighting

– chased by triggered drum pads, alongside expertly synced cymbals and live drums

– can actually hear the horns and strings cut through, three perfectly in sync percussionists including actual drummer

– well that breakdown was massive/goosebump-worthy

– drums like a death march as they pan over cold rocks

– guitars lash against lumbering mallets

– fans head-banging in time as camera floats over volcanic terrain

– backup chorus as lights flicker across medieval town

– one of the few guitarists who can shred with a bow

– sigur ros fans are so polite they even cheer for flute solos un-ironically

– superstar sound guy is surrounded by a fiber optic lamp and other goods from Spencer’s

– lots of not quite as menacing nine inch nails textures to new material

– can actually feel chest-caving bass lines for once

– embers of lava dancing round screen, sub satanic visuals, lights sputter and shake o

– one part seriously feels like being pulled through a black hole

– holds note in hopeful reprise then loops it so it stretches on forever

– drone on friend; drone on

– galloping bass, light at the end of this very long tunnel

– drums collide with horns, lasers shot into crowd

– definite pull between light and dark

– mind = blown

Sigur Rós @ Madison Square Garden, 3.25.13:
Yfirborð
Ný Batterí
Vaka
Hrafntinna
Sæglópur
Fljótavík
E-bow
Varúð
Hoppípolla
Með Blóðnasir
Olsen Olsen
Kveikur
Festival
Brennisteinn

Encore:
Glósóli
Popplagið