Icelandic atmospheric and cinematic rock group Sigur Ros don’t often make it out to Los Angeles, but when they do, they make it count.
Thursday night was the group’s first LA dates since a series of shows accompanied by the LA Philharmonic back in 2017. For this tour, the band played unaccompanied by the strings and brass sections that have been previously characteristic of their shows. But even with just four men on stage, the sound was massive, filling the high ceilings of the Shrine Auditorium.
The show was split into two sets with an intermission in between. I’m usually fine with seated shows, but the intermission meant there were then two moments in the show of people finding their seats while the music was happening, and it made it hard to focus in on what was happening on stage at times. Sigur Ros is the kind of band I want to be fully immersed in what is going on, and that made it a little difficult.
But otherwise, this was an incredible show. The band is recording a new album that is supposed to drop later this year. It’s the first time I’ve seen them since seeing them play their own show.
Previously, I had seen Sigur Ros play a series of festival dates that always had weather-related incidents. Most recently, at Boston Calling 2017, the band played in the pouring rain, probably the best way to see them honestly. Prior to that a few weeks, half their set at Hangout 2017 was cancelled due to a huge storm that rolled in and started blowing up transformers in Gulf Shores. In 2016, Treasure Island Music Festival was nearly cancelled by weather completely but things held up long enough for Sigur Ros to play a near-full set. And in 2012, I saw them play amongst the fog of San Francisco for Outside Lands — a beautiful set.
This was the first time seeing them indoors for me. It was nice getting a full two-hour treatment and it included a handful of new songs from the upcoming new album. This lineup consists of Jonsi, Georg Holm, and Kjartan Sveinsson together for the first time in a long time. Jonsi and Georg have been constants through the band’s 27-year history, with Kjartan joining in 1998 before departing in 2013.
The new stuff sounded great but it was old favorites like “Svefn-g-englar” (which got a lot of people like myself into the band via Cameron Crowe’s 2001 film Vanilla Sky), “Samskeyti”, and another favorite of mine “Saeglopur”. The way Jonsi is able to get across strong emotions in a language that isn’t comprehendible is unfathomable. The bowed guitar playing, the synths, heavy guitar, and his voice just create soundscapes that make the rest of music feel basic by comparison.
Almost 30 years into their career and Sigur Ros is still going strong — and that’s a damn good thing.
Words by Mark Ortega
Photos by Eric Han