The Iceman Cometh

Sigur Ros Flood the Greek Theatre with Their Catalog of Soaring, Atmospheric Compositions

Alan Chen/Illustration

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Sigur Ros make big music. Huge music. There's a whole scale of ascending hyperbole that could be used to describe the sound of guitars, horns and the entirety of the London Oratory Boys' Choir, most of them different iterations of the word "grand." Darlings of the musical intelligensia, Iceland's most famous rock band export, designated soundtrackers of everything from the harrowingly apocalyptic "Children of Men" to jaunty ads about the 2006 World Cup, Sigur Ros has the unique capability of making you feel like a puny speck in the vast universe at the same time they resoundingly confirm your place in it.

It's no wonder, then, that their music has packed concert halls halfway around the world from their native country. Touring their fourth studio album at the Greek Theatre Friday night, Sigur Ros enchanted a capacity crowd of Cal students and older San Francisco clientele, which at odd intervals asked lead singer Jonsi Birgisson about his day, hollered that he was really freaking amazing and begged him to never, ever stop singing.

Set opener "Svefn-G-Englar" coaxed awake a crowd that had gone a little sleepy-eyed from the tinkertoy ministrations of opening act Parachutes. The song's axis is Birgisson's falsetto. With visible frustration, he struggled to hold the song's central note several times before finally succeeding on the last try. It was the only misstep in an otherwise exultant performance.

Their bright green felt-crowns aside, his bandmates maintained a relatively low-key presence. It's a far cry from the clenched-face agonies of Birgisson, who sings with an expression like his pet hamster just died, and sometimes doesn't so much play his guitar as he assaults it. But the trio's stoic bedrock operations shoulder the responsibility of pushing Sigur Ros' music to the utmost heights of opulent rock opera, even or especially in a live setting. Twinkly at first, "Glosoli" swung up on a slow rink-a-dink upsurge before breaking down into a chaos of horns and seizing guitars. A languid rendition of "Hoppipolla" nevertheless jacked excitement levels through the roof, if the chorus of screams that greeted its incoming was any signal. Birgisson gestured for an audience singalong. "I'll sing an octave lower," he added coyly.

The band has exotic decorating tastes, too. Work crews had hauled up enormous lanterns, which hung suspended in the background like artifacts of a strange planetarium. Birgisson wore glitter on his cheekbones and long grey feathers in his hair. The display screen swapped images from a child's crayon daydreams for close-ups of band members noodling on their instruments, sometimes superimposing one atop the other. The overall effect was disorienting, but it was a relaxed, down-to-earth Birgisson who kidded the audience. "Would you prefer me to talk in English?" he said innocently, after attempting to communicate in Icelandic with some mystified, spectators. This prompted appreciative laughter and few negatives.

Several displays of

octave-vaulting virtuoso later, Birgisson's voice came through as strong as if he hadn't been singing at the topmost tip of his tonal register. It was the turbo-charged encore-consisting of one song, clocking in at a whopping 12 minutes-that topped off the exceptional show. "Popplagid," translated as "Pop Song," is in many ways the band's showcase anthem: an aria that corrodes into a guttural, metal-riffing melee. An epileptic lightshow signaled the concert's end, but the breadth of the music stayed with everyone. Sigur Ros will be back, bigger than ever.

Learn Hopelandic with Danica at [email protected]

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