Live Review: Sigur Ros @ SEC Armadillo

The Icelandic prog-rock band Sigur Rós have garnered a lot of attention in the past few years, especially for their spectacular live shows. The first time I saw them was in the SECC when I was sixteen, and afterwards I sat down on the curb and wept. This feeling of overwhelming emotion is what sets their live shows apart.

In 2013, they played again, this time in Edinburgh at the Usher Hall – I was worried the less intimate venue would affect the impact, but it didn’t make a difference. As usual, they had a heavy gauze hanging over them for the first few songs and it dropped to the beat of ‘Brennistein’, the most dramatic song from their elemental, dark album Kveikur. The gauze dropping is a big part of their shows, it amps up the excitement and the crowd goes wild.

This aspect of the show, among other things, was missing from their 2017 tour. Sadly, their performance in September of this year at the Armadillo didn’t live up to the Valtari and Kveikur tours.

Yes, as always, it was a spectacle – a masterpiece of sound and visuals, but there was something off. Somehow, the emotional overload that the previous two gigs had inspired was absent. It felt flat. Seeing one of my favourite bands live, hearing incredible songs like ‘Sæglópur’ and ‘Popplagið’ for the third time should have left me an emotional wreck, but it didn’t.

It was previously well-documented that they had whittled down the ensemble, leaving the three key members Jonsi, Georg Hólm and Orri Dýrason alone on stage. I was intrigued to see them play like this, but unfortunately it didn’t work.

They needed to strip other aspects of the spectacle away to balance it out. Instead, the three looked slightly lost on stage amidst a blitz of flashing lights and explosive displays. It was odd hearing a full-scale performance whilst only three instruments and one voice were live at one time.

Knowing that the majority of the music wasn’t live was odd, and left us feeling a little cheated, like we’d paid to hear recordings played on loud speakers and watch a mesmerising light show.

The intimacy of the previous shows was absent as well owing to their new structure and that Jonsi didn’t do his usual adorable address to the audience. Instead of playing for a sizable chunk, then keeping the crowd waiting before coming back on for a dramatic, devastating encore, they played for one hour, had a twenty-minute break then played again. It felt more like a formulaic process than an evolving, involving performance.

The highlight for me was ‘Vaka’, being one of their more mellow songs. It suited being played by just the three frontmen. They took their time over each ethereal note, letting it soar and fall while the audience held their breath.

It’s hard to criticise this incredible band, but I know other fans were disappointed as well. Maybe they had an off night, or perhaps they need to rethink a few things. It was still an enjoyable gig – but it didn’t pack the punch of their previous shows.

By Emily Black