Illuminated by shards of lightning, Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi is hunched crookedly over his guitar, thrashing it with a cello bow like a mad sorcerer summoning a storm. Lashings of wailing, distorted dissonance reverberate around the Hammersmith Apollo – it’s not immediately obvious from their recordings, but Sigur Rós are an incredibly powerful live band.
The Icelandic rockers’ third and final London show of their European tour began understatedly, with atmospheric new song ‘Á’ preceding a beautiful rendition of ‘Ekki múkk’ from 2012’s Valtari. But ‘Glósóli’ – a track that steadily chugs along before euphorically erupting – soon raised the intensity. When the band performed the track at Citadel Festival last year it didn’t quite climax as anticipated. This time it was genuinely spine-shivering: Jónsi’s billowing bowed-guitar buffeting the ears and propelling the song off the cliff edge and into the clouds.
An excellent performance of ‘E-Bow’ followed. A setlist staple over the years, the song illustrated how easily Jónsi, bassist Georg Hólm, and drummer Orri Páll Dýrason have adapted to playing as a three-piece (there were ten other musicians onstage during their last UK tour).
The trio’s ability to shift dynamics was particularly impressive, whether it was through clever production touches such as gradually quietening their backing track before unleashing a storm of fuzz in ‘Sæglópur’, or, less subtly, through Dýrason giving the drums an almighty wallop to produce cavernous echoes during the dramatic 13 minute ‘Dauðalagið’ (‘The Death Song’).
The band balanced these onslaughts of volcanic rock with moments of delicate ambience. The organ-led ‘Vaka’ was typically otherworldly, while new single ‘Óveður’ utilised manipulated vocal samples and irregular beat patterns to sombre effect. Other new tracks were too sparse to be truly immersive on first listen – understandable given that the band are using this tour to refine new material.
Although the choice of an all-seater venue was slightly restricting, it did allow the audience to appreciate the show’s spectacular visuals. During the soothing piano melodies of ‘Fljótavík’, soft lights glinted like fireflies, while a glaze of lurid blood-red filters complimented the fiery fury of the brilliant ‘Kveikur’.
After ‘Kveikur’, Jónsi broke his silence to thank the audience (in Icelandic) and introduce their customary set-closer: the 15 minute monster, ironically named ‘The Pop Song’ (‘Popplagið’). Though slimmed down to a mere ten minutes, its build remained almost ridiculously prolonged. But it was worth the wait. As savage drums, screeching feedback and Jónsi’s unreal falsetto combined in an overwhelming crescendo, Sigur Rós proved they can be more devastating than the heaviest of heavy metal bands.
Featured image: NME.