Dreaming with Sigur Rós

Sigur Rós is an anomaly in the pop/rock music world these days and their concert last night at the Greek Theater illustrated just how much so. The Icelandic band asks its audience to witness, rather than participate in its performances; odd in this age of shallow American Idol-style pap that tries (and fails) to compensate for inherent blandness by encouraging its listeners to chime in.

A brief, cautious request to “clap, but please stay with the rhythm” or contribute a brief “oo-oo” backdrop for the band to quickly overwhelm was about all they needed from their respectfully quiet fans. Everyone seemed happy to comply, even the stoner next to me.

Opening with a typically lush rendering of “Svefn-g-englar” from 1999’s Ágætis Byrjun, Jónsi Birgisson’s keening vocals cut through the slo-mo roiling emotional sea created by (could it be?) just four musicians. At the same time, he bowed his electric guitar in wailing counterpoint and I just about lost my mind– and this is only three minutes into the show.

Most bands hold back their best material for later in the evening. Sigur Rós, with great poise, cut right to the quick, sending the crowd into swift rapture as the sound washed to the back rows of the Greek, lulling everyone into a blissful state. I looked around at peoples’ faces and saw serene, half-lidded smiles and couples leaning into each other.

Further into their 90-minute set, newer songs like the upbeat (for them) “Inní mér syngur vitleysingur” and “Vid spilum endalaust” from Med sud I eyrum vid spilum endalaust, their latest album, got a cooler reception than their older material. But there wasn’t anything like discontent happening, perhaps just quiet absorption and studied pondering from a dedicated turnout.

An hour and a half later, delicate moments of shimmering beauty faded; crashing waves of swirling keyboards and drums calmed. We all woke up, even though we knew we hadn’t been sleeping. We’d been dreaming, our eyes wide open.