Sigur Rós have a habit of doing things out of the ordinary. Not only have they chosen to play at Jodrell Bank Observatory, Cheshire, UK, beneath the world famous 250ft diameter Lovell Telescope, but their concert starts with a specially composed piece of music featuring radio echoes from meteors; signals from spacecraft travelling to the moon and beyond; and the rhythmic beat of a spinning dead star. All from Jodrell Bank itself. It’s a remarkable start, in an extraordinary setting.
Jodrell Bank have hosted live music performances for the past couple of years. It’s a stunning location for a concert, and there is a focus on science as well as the music. I’m not surprised that they have won awards for the best festival setting. It’s a refreshing change from the UK festival pack-’em-in-like-cattle strategy. Concerts here are called ‘transmissions’, even the final emails were called ‘Pre-Flight Check List’, and Sigur Rós were preceded by an Astro-physicist linking up live with his South African colleague.
Sigur Rós bundle on stage with an impressive sized supporting cast. There is a brass section, string section and extra percussion. The band take front of stage, of course, and the extra personnel come into their own, providing a full and lush soundscape. If there is one outstanding member tonight – it’s the Lovell telescope itself. Sitting just behind and to the left of the stage, it looms impressively agains the night sky. It’s frequently lit with projections, but when it turns into a lunar landscape midway through the set, it’s truly special. It feels like Sigur Rós are playing on the moon.
Sigur Rós start with the slow-burning, and slightly terrifying, Yfirborð, before moving on to some of their better known tracks including a slightly skewiff Glósóli, and the ever popular Hoppípolla. Sæglópur sounds as magical as ever, and reminds me seeing the band on their Icelandic tour in 2006. New tracks are mixed in too – Ísjaki sounded glorious, and Varúð has grown into a delight whilst Kveikur sounds deliciously dark.
Jonsí is, as ever, a man of few words. In addition to the occasional ‘Takk Fyrir’, he stops at one point to say ‘Thanks for letting us play here, it’s a nice place’. He is right, of course.
The encore consists only of two pieces, but what a way to end. Brennistein is menacing, with neon green light projections and images of glimpsed animals / human body parts. It’s spell binding, and the audience are awed. Traditional set closer Popplagið follows and still sounds awesome, growing and gnawing away at you. It ends in the usual storm of feedback, although this time, the Lovell telescope is slowly turning away. It’s the end of an extraordinary, otherworldly performance.