Icelandic post rock band Sigur Ros lived up to its reputation as a must-see live act during a performance at Istora Senayan in Jakarta on May 10, bringing its haunting sounds to life with dramatic lighting and experimental visuals.
The trio transformed into a 12-member mini orchestra on stage — complete with brass horns, a violin and backup singers — and flooded the venue with complex, evocative tones. Band members Jon Thor Birgisson (Jonsi), Georg Holm (Goggi) and Orri Pall Dyrason usually play all of the instruments themselves when recording albums, so having extra talent at the Jakarta show effectively replicated the band’s full sound.
Not only did the presence of many musicians deepen the resonance of the music, the particular addition of a live flutist sent chills down my spine when she played the signature solo in “Olsen Olsen,” hitting the dynamics perfectly and joyfully bouncing to each tone. Those 10 seconds alone made the entire show worth attending, despite the pricey tickets (Rp 750,000 apiece).
The band’s made-up language, called Hopelandic, may be as incomprehensible as Icelandic to most of the band’s fans, but still stirs up powerful emotions in listeners — a phenomenon that was even more apparent during the group’s first performance in Indonesia. Attendees in the half-full venue echoed Jonsi’s soprano syllables in perfect harmony — sparking a rare smile on his face as the generally distant lead singer began conducting them with his hands. As expected, favorites "Staralfur" and "Hoppipolla" garnered cheers of praise from the audience.
Viewers were treated to another dimension of Sigur Ros’s abstract expression through the use of experimental videos. Images of people swimming with sharks in the ocean, a post-apocalyptic explosion scenario, multicolored lights twinkling on black and a silhouette of climbers on a mountain provoked a deeper response to the sentiments the band emits through its metaphysical music. At one point, tiny cameras attached to the instruments projected live images of band members strumming guitars, banging on drums and gripping the microphone, turning the concert into a real-time music video.
Since forming in Reykjavik in 1994, the band’s ambient, ethereal sound has gained a devoted fanbase worldwide. Its first album, “Von,” sold only 313 copies, but the band’s unique creation has become so popular that members have collaborated with Matt Groening to develop the Sigur Ros take on “The Simpsons” theme song, set to air on May 19. Throughout the past two decades, Sigur Ros has really crafted a style that seems to find a following in almost every country — perhaps a result of singing in a gibberish language that means nothing in the literal sense, but touches somewhere deep inside its listeners.
Sigur Ros’s Jakarta concert came ahead of its seventh album, “Kveikur,” set for release in mid-June. While most of its Indonesian’s fans will surely welcome the new tracks, the audio-visual journey with Sigur Ros at the Jakarta show has enlivened the older songs and placed them beyond ears and into the soul.