Sigur Rós – O2 Apollo, Manchester – 7th November 2022
We’re at the first of two nights when Sigur Rós take over Manchester’s Apollo theatre. It’s the ‘standing stalls’ night (as opposed to the following ‘by public demand’ second night when the seats will be in) and it’s packed out. Even in the circle, seats are filled right to the back.
There’s an atmosphere already in place walking into the stalls as a haze of fog or smoke hangs in the air disguising the stage set, less a leftover from Bonfire Night and more scene setting as the hubub is accompanied by a deep ambient hum. As the lights dim there’s a faint flicker of red from the rear of the stage; perhaps the remnants of dying embers, as the shadowy figures take up their places.
Taking a leaf from the performing art of Bob Dylan who trod the same stage only days before, they avoid any rabble-rousing rock and roll cliches and focus entirely on performance. The stage set is more of acreative space, the production allowing for a series of backdrop projections, occasionally providing the only light on stage which is decorated with clusters of narrow twisting stations. The band too, move around, shifintg from instrument to instrument as necessary in a bizarre ritual of musical chairs.
It’s twenty years since the ( ) – untitled – album which forms the bulk of the set, parts 1-3 forming the opening sequence. As the quartet form a more intimate gathering for Untitled 3 – Samskeyyti, there’s a ripple of recognition as they run through what might feasibly be called ‘the hit’. The music is allowed to breathe and hanging in the air, music that needs to fill big spaces and the Art Deco of the Apollo seems as suitable as any ornate cathedral. Washes and waves of ambience are the order of the day where the vocal isn’t about singing but using the voice to create sounds and add another dimension to the mix. And talking of which, there’s enough bowing of the guitar to satisfy even the most demanding of guitar-bowing acolytes. The hauntingly eerie and otherwordly series of notes dragged out in Svefn-g-englar a mere aperitif for experimentation.
A quasi-religious reverence is evident amongst the packed numbers, the rear bar talkers only briefly breaking the moments of solitude. Music of the spheres continues to tumble gently from the silhouettes, backlit by the stark white light of the abstract projections with the deep and dense bottom end of the sound spectrum not quite shaking the ribs in bass pedal style, but creating an ethereal touch of vibration.
The beauty of Sigur Rós is in the unfathomable; the vocalisms for the majority being in the category of undecipherable, but which add the human aspect of communication to the moods which are being crafted. The pulse and musical box effect on Glosoli is balanced with an intense crescendo and. anear twenty minute run of music from Takk pays more heed to the Post Rock signature shrillness dynamics where the loud-quiet contrast is made even more intense by the extremes of each and provides possibly the highlight of the set. Along with Festival, they also offer the warning of the rare Sigur Rós brutality that’s to follow at the end of the set. While the first set has offered an almost celestial experience, the second is proof that within the lulls of that velvet coating lies a darker beast.
Ultimately, we experience the charge of a positive affirmation and a searing indictment of the pull that the broad genre of Post Rock can have. Sigur Rós prove the enigmatic masters who’ve pulled the sound into the mass appeal of the mainstream – sort of…
Categories: Live Reviews