Sigur Ros have been about for over quarter of a century. The Icelandic post-rock pioneers have transcended the relative anonymity of the genre in the mainstream, performing to a spectacular amount of people internationally and achieving impressive chart success. With their music existing in several disciplines (across films, remixes, and video albums), perhaps the most intense and pure form of Sigur Ros a fan can experience is live. And hence, we found ourselves at the first of two sold-out dates at O2 Apollo Manchester.
Sigur Ros, formed in Reykjavik in 1994, returned to Manchester for two nights, their first shows in the city since 2017. Multi-instrumentalist Kjartan Sveinsson has re-joined on this world tour after nearly 10 years out of the band, reuniting with frontman Jón Þór “Jónsi” Birgisson and bassist Georg Hólm. With the move of touring member Ólafur Björn Ólafsson to drums, this iteration of Sigur Ros is complete.
At post-rock concerts like these, there’s a palpable sense of community. It’s a dedicated and in some ways impenetrable genre, with fans often facing an uphill battle when trying to convert anyone who cares to listen. The music spans from minimalist moments of clarity to panoramic walls of sound, often in the same song. 10-minute meandering instrumental pieces are not for everyone, but in this room, the audience were there for exactly that. And it was the love of the genre and sense of mutual understanding between fans that helped create the ethereal nature of last Monday’s performance.
Lightbulbs were staggered across the stage and thin chains were suspended from the tall, historical Apollo ceiling, giving different impressions of the staging at different angles to the audience. In many ways, this mirrored Sigur Ros’ music: everyone had a slightly different reason for being there, but they were unified because the music moved something within them, and played a role of significance in their lives.
From the opening run of the first three tracks from the seminal 2002 album ( ), it became immediately apparent that Sigur Ros’ performance was going to be remarkable. Jónsi’s falsetto vocals were performed with shattering clarity, and every instrument could be recognised in a technically perfect mix. A great test of a band’s dynamism is if each specific instrument holds interest when focusing on it; Sigur Ros passed this with flying colours. The famous use of bowed guitar sat radiantly front and centre, but the way the band were set up also gave every instrument the freedom of expression within the complex structure of the songs.
By the fourth track, 1999 classic ‘Svefn-g-englar’, we knew Sigur Ros’ mastery wasn’t an exception, but exceptional. The lightbulbs glowed different hues of warm yellows, pensive whites, and intense reds and the Apollo audience were sent on a higher path.
Everything in the Sigur Ros live show worked towards immersion, especially in the first half. After nearly every song, there was a reconfiguring of how the members were situated in order for them to manipulate their instruments and play the most moving, and the most perfect renditions of the music. 2005’s ‘Saeglopur’, with a sublime and awe-inspiring post-rock breakdown, was technically flawless, and the audience’s palpable emotional response to the adrenaline reflected this. It was beautiful to see play out.
Jónsi didn’t break the immersion even when stopping to talk, speaking in Icelandic in the one time he addressed the crowd. It was like the Apollo was transported to the Harpa concert hall in Reykjavik; we were there on their terms. Towards the end of the set, at an extreme minimalist moment, spine-tingling pin-drop silence fell across the Apollo and for a moment, I forgot where I was. As an immersive performance, it could be argued that Sigur Ros are peerless.
The set ended with a few heavier numbers, and concluded with a final pulsation of post-rock defiance within ‘Untitled #8 – Popplagið’. Sobering up from the captivation of the concert, the crowd gave a lengthy and deserved applause twice, under a tape recording of ‘Avalon’. This is what Sigur Ros do; they move audiences across the world with the universal language of music, performing some of the most beautiful and contemplative music of their generation. They’re at the top of their game, 25 years on from starting. What a privilege it was to witness them.
You can stream the 2022 remaster of Sigur Ros’ 2002 album ( ) below: