Sigur Ros, Amina at the St James

By Russell Baillie

Sigur Ros sure know how to make a non-entrance. The band begin playing behind a gauze curtain. All you can see is shadows. All you can hear is the slowly snowballing chords of Takk - the title track of the Icelandic outfit's 2005 album and also the only word any of the band utter all night, for it means "thank you" - as it segues into Glosoli.

That song starts out with airy fairy bells and whistles underpinned by a rhythm that's something akin to King Kong striding through a snowdrift with a choirboy cooing in his ear.

And then it explodes and ... not for the last time tonight I am left with a lump in my throat and the makings of tears.

Usually songs get you right there because of the words divided by melody.

Sigur Ros have a way with a chord change, a texture, a tune, a moment of pure noisepower that does all that without a hope of knowing what frontman-guitarist Jonsi Birgisson is singing about in his unearthly falsetto.

Squint your ears enough and he could be a subtitles-required version of Radiohead's Thom Yorke, without the whinging about the state of the world and with a violin bow instead of a guitar pick.

On their three acclaimed albums they have won comparisons to art-rock movements of the past.

But nothing seems to quite fit the live experience, complete with a visual presentation which is a show in itself.

At the start, with the shadows behind that curtain, it's hard to know where the musicians end and the light begins. And that's a fitting description of the Sigur Ros effect, all the way to when that blind falls again near midnight.

The hint that we were in for something special came even before the quartet came on stage.

There are support bands and then there are support bands. In the case of Amina - the all-female Icelandic string quartet who multi-task on everything from laptops to bowed saws - they are both the beautiful lull before the Sigur Ros storm and part of the headliners' touring line-up.

Which means that during most Sigur Ros songs there is a lot going on onstage which makes you wonder if there are any musical instruments actually left in Reykjavik - or whether the instruction books for them lost something in the translation.

On one number near the end, Goggi Holm is playing his bass with drumsticks, Birgisson is thrashing that violin bow into his electric guitar, the Amina gals have opted for finger-plucked pizzicato and keyboardist-guitarist Kjarri Sveinsson has pulled out a tin whistle.

Even drummer Orri Pall Dyrason turns his attention to a couple of keyboards before the encore.

So a wall of sound? Big bloody carry-all-before-it avalanche of it, actually. At one point a drum microphone collapses, the resulting crunch sounding like an intended early thunderclap before the next musical tempest.

And it's the way they conjure another cosmic storm from those exquisite moments of contemplative melancholy that makes Sigur Ros on this Easter Monday in Auckland truly wondrous.

The gig of many a year.


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