Following a sold-out show at Beacon Theatre in Manhattan earlier in the week, Sigur Rós delivered another mesmerizing performance Friday night to a standing-room only crowd at Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre. As if the band themselves weren’t capable enough of creating music that will tear at your heartstrings, Sigur Rós is joined on this tour by the 41-piece Wordless Music Orchestra. Their powers combined cemented the answer to anyone asking themselves the question of “am I going to cry tonight?” with a definitive “yes.”
My story about Sigur Rós is a long one. Maybe I’ll tell you all about it one day, but for now I’m going to try and truncate the journey to a handful of anecdotes that will (hopefully) get my point across.
The first time I saw Sigur Rós live was September 7, 2005. It was a show that I was determined to see despite it being sold out and happening in a city a half an hour away with no way for me to get there. Defying the odds, and perhaps as fate would have it, I found a ticket. I borrowed a car from someone I barely knew and I drove to Durham, NC, a city I’d never been to. I’m glad that I did, because Sigur Ros’ performance at the Carolina Theatre that night changed my life.
That sounds hyperbolic but it’s true. I’d just moved to a new city and was only a few weeks into my first semester of college. Sigur Rós’ music had been an important source of emotional respite for me over the years, and I was leaning into them very heavily at the time.
As I tried to process the seismic changes happening in my life, going to this show became less of a want and more of a need. The experience of seeing Sigur Rós live felt like it would provide the catharsis I so desperately needed, and as it turns out I was right.
Sigur Ros’ performance was unlike anything I had ever witnessed in a live show, visually or sonically. The experience was catharsis in its purest and most artistically beautiful form. I was in absolute awe.
I have seen Sigur Rós live 12 times since then. Each show has been a uniquely joyful experience filled with memories and cosmic serendipity just like the first.
In March of 2013, as Sigur Rós was announcing the release of their album, Kveikur, the band was scheduled to play on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. A bout of insomnia led me from my Brooklyn apartment to 30 Rockefeller Plaza in the wee hours of that morning on the off chance that I might get into the taping via a standby ticket.
Defying the odds yet again, and again perhaps as fate would have it, I found my way into the studio audience for the taping and then onto the band bench where I headbanged my way through Sigur Rós’ entire performance of “Kveikur.”
Since seeing them in 2005, I didn’t miss a single US tour by Sigur Rós until last year. I had a ticket to the Brooklyn stop on the tour, but my daughter was only nine weeks old at the time and COVID was spiking. I just couldn’t bring myself to take the risk. So instead I sat in the safety of my living room with my daughter sleeping in my arms as we listened to and enjoyed “Andvari”’s endless orchestral swells. It was a special moment that I will remember forever.
Fast forward one year and some change and we’re back to the present, to the reason you’re all actually here: last week’s show. Let’s talk about it.
Starting slow and quiet and building to a dramatic but reserved intensity, Sigur Rós and the Wordless Music Orchestra opened the evening with “Blóðberg,” the first single from the band’s most recent album, ATTA. The layers of depth added by having a live orchestra were unmistakable from the very beginning – the band and the orchestra sounded beautiful together.
Sigur Rós’ performance was split into two sets that showcased the strength of the catalogue the band has amassed over their nearly three decades of existence. Classic tracks like “Von” and “Starálfur” appeared on the setlist alongside new songs like “8” as well as “Skel”, a hauntingly beautiful track that is sure to become a classic of its own.
A highlight of the evening for me, of course, came when Sigur Rós played “Andvari”. Hearing the song transported me back to the moments in my living room listening to the song with my daughter, and the resulting realization of the accelerating passage of time brought tears to my eyes.
And that is what the experience of seeing Sigur Rós live has always been – a vessel to the furthest reaches of my emotional memory and a soundtrack for finding beauty and meaning in it all. An impossible task for most bands, but not for Sigur Rós.
As I typically shoot metal acts, I can’t exactly say I’m used to shooting performances that include a 41-piece orchestra. Finding a good vantage point to capture the band, who were positioned in the center and surrounded by the orchestra took some effort.
The crowd vibe was also (obviously) much different than the metal shows I was used to shooting, as everyone was seated and quiet. There was also no photo pit and the photographers were asked instead to shoot from the side. Given the crowd was seated this ended up being quite nice, as it allowed me to focus on getting my shots without worrying about obstructing anyone’s view by standing in the aisles.
I had both my cameras with my 24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses, but ended up using the 70-200mm almost exclusively. Though obstructed, Jónsi was still clearly visible and easy to shoot while Georg Hólm and Kjartan Sveinsson were a bit more difficult given their positioning relative to mine. At one point I switched to the other side of the stage to see if it would help but ended up moving back to my original position as soon as Jónsi pulled out his bow for “Ekki Múkk.”
As quickly as it had begun, the first three songs were over and I packed my camera away and went to my seat, which I had purchased in the front row. Usually I shoot from the pit and watch from the crowd. Tonight was the reverse, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.