Icelandic superstars Sigur Ros are space-and-time-travel specialists. They may be playing their hearts out and singing in another (occasionally made-up) language, but at the same time they have the ability to transport their listeners to another dimension. During a highly controlled but magical set in Studio 3 at the BBC’s Maida Vale studios, concluding a week of 6 Music Live concerts and introduced by an excited Lauren Laverne, it was hard not to feel yourself moved to a chilly Arctic waste.
Picture the scene: it’s dark, it’s slightly smoky – we were warned ahead of time that there would be “haze” – there’s a painted backdrop featuring mythical beasts in masks and bare trees, there are cymbals that sound like cowbells around the necks of reindeer. All that’s missing are fur rugs: instead singer Jonsi Birgisson, Peter Hook-like bassist Georg Holm and drummer Orri Dyrason are stood or seated on neat Persian rugs. All in all there are 11 musicians on stage, including strings, brass and additional percussion – those cymbals aren’t going to ring themselves.
And all these musicians are kept busy during the 40-minute set. Sigur Ros are not the type of band who seek to ingratiate themselves by friendly chatter: no, we’re straight into Vaka off the untitled () album, with otherworldly voices and keyboards, Jonsi’s confident vocal and repeating choruses, like some kind of spiritual sea shanty. Things step up a bit with Stormur from their latest album, Kveikur. This is a quite different sound for the band: the departure of keyboardist and arranger Kjartan Sveinsson earlier this year means Dyrason’s muscular drumming gets more attention, and there’s a more obvious sense of a song going somewhere, rather than drifting out to sea (though we still get a choir and some lively glockenspiel just so we remember who we’re dealing with).
After a quickly mumbled thank you from Jonsi, things continue with one of the band’s finest tracks, Glosoli, which begins like a leisurely tramp through snowy woods (that time-travel again) but gradually builds and builds to a joyous and oddly comforting explosion of sound. Then it’s back to the realm of the ethereal with the single Varud from 2012’s Valtari, which begins with slightly off-key piano and sweet falsetto vocal then crunches its way to a choir-led climax.
This is followed by everyone’s favourite TV theme tune, Hoppipolla, which segues neatly into that track that follows it on 2005’s Takk album, Med Blodnasir, by which point drummer Dyrason is in full flight.
The gig ends with two tracks from Kveikur – Hrafntinna, with its shimmering, gamelan-like cymbals, and the title track, full of distorted guitars and dark, stormy skies. And with that ringing in our ears they leave the stage. No 15-minute versions of Popplaglid (their usual encore sign-off) to send us on our way, either.
This was a brilliant distillation of the group’s sound – so clear, so sharp – and a real treat to enjoy it so close up – usually these days they’re to be found in such disparate venues as the Eden Project or Jodrell Bank. But their fans, who left this gig beaming, may soon be augmented by another set of loyalists: it’s been announced that they’re going to appear in the next series of Game of Thrones – should be a perfect fit…
Vaka – ()
Stormur – Kveikur
Glosoli – Takk
Varud – Valtari
Hoppipolla/Med Blodnasir – Takk
Hrafntinna – Kveikur
Kveikur – Kveikur
Listen again here – plus watch highlights here, or watch from 7pm tonight on BBC Red Button