Sigur Rós (photo: Jon Bauer)
Sigur Rós are consistently billed as a post-rock band — but while listening to them in a contemporary context, their music reminds me less of the 2000’s soaring arrangements, and more of this era’s experimental manipulations of sound through production. They are a rock band, yes, but Sigur Rós’ approach to emotional articulation is electronic. Prioritizing sound construction over literal meaning, their music pulls listeners emotionally without relying on context.
At the Fox Theater in Oakland on Sunday night, Sigur Rós’ expansive sound was matched with soaring lights and patterned projections. The theater itself seemed to house their performance perfectly — where there were gaps in the band’s visuals, the Fox’s own decor filled in.
The performance was long — Sigur Rós filled a full two and a half hours alone, without supporting bands — but I felt that their choice to play for a theatrical amount of time added to the show’s immersion. Standing amongst the Fox’s large crowd, I felt unbodied and unburdened. It was a relief to listen to talented musicians play for the sound of it, and to take a break from anticipating my own reaction to new material.
Though the band’s lyrics are not, as is popularly assumed, all in syllabic and non-literal “Vonlenska” (many of the songs are sung in Icelandic) lead singer Jónsi’s treatment of those lyrics totally removes them from languages usual responsibility to be understood literally. Instead, Sigur Rós manipulates their vocals, as they do their instrumental tools, mathematically — arranging the notes into patterns and waves that impact the crowd regardless of conscious understanding.
Sigur Rós didn’t come to the Fox with new material, or with chatty conversation. But they brought a fully-fleshed performance, deeply rooted in the engaging power of sound. Standing witness to that performance felt good, like relaxing into a known environment feels good — like slowly closing your eyes and upturning your face to the sun.