OAKLAND — Sigur Rós brought their visually stunning show to the Fox Theater Sunday, the second of two Bay Area concerts. Their setlist was comprised of songs from throughout their discography, including classics like “Starálfur” and “Ný batterí,” along with some newer songs like “Kveikur,” from their newest (2013) album with the same name.
Sigur Rós didn’t play any material from Von, their very first album from 1997, but even some of the most hardcore fans weren’t too hurt by this because it’s largely considered their weakest. They did, however, play songs off of Ágætis byrjun, their second and most celebrated album, and one that’s often neglected.
Since Ágætis byrjun, the band’s style has changed influences, from folk to ambient pop to industrial, but it has never strayed from post-rock. The live show didn’t truly showcase this diversity in sound. There are only three members in the band, which means that a variety of the orchestral and electronic compositions were run through a laptop.
This is normal for shows and usually not a problem, but when paired with the massive crescendos of a bowed guitar or thundering drums, it felt weak. Without the composition details, Sigur Rós have a very distinct core of ambient and dreamy pop music that crescendos into rock inspired by classical songwriting. When you add those important details by hitting play on a laptop, attention is still drawn to the core makeup of the band.
There was a moment during “Starálfur” when the audio completely cut out, and there was only a high-pitched ringing that filled the room. Jónsi and his bandmates stood around as their sound was fixed. This only took about a minute, but it telling.
A big appeal for Sigur Rós is how their sound is so soft, yet cathartic in a similar way to more aggressive styles of music. When seeing this band live, it’s difficult to get into the music if the band also isn’t into it. When the sound cut out, the band didn’t appear surprised. It wasn’t par for the course, but Sigur Rós seemed used to the patterns of undergoing technical difficulties.
But because Sigur Rós are such a seasoned band, they really have had the time to perfect their execution and visuals. This one wasn’t as special of a show as when the band decorated a graveyard in Hollywood, but it was easy to tell a lot of work went into the production.
Oftentimes the song would start off in darkness, maybe a single bright white light illuminating some portion of the stage. As it built and more instrumentation was added, more lights would appear on stage, accenting the rhythm. By the climax, the whole stage was blindingly bright, illuminating the walls and the ceiling with a seizure-like intensity.
Overall, Sigur Rós put on an interesting show with a solid setlist and visuals. Your out-of-body experience will vary with context.