Sigur Rós & Northern Lights

The northern lights dance across the Reykjavík sky and frost crunches underfoot as a line of people rub their hands together and stamp their feet. They are waiting to see Sigur Rós.

As is now just as customary as finishing each set with Popplagið, Sigur Rós are finishing their world tour with a home coming to Reykjavík. As always, the tour has been met with critical acclaim across the globe. There has been something different this time round though. Perhaps it’s the recent struggles with Icelandic tax authorities, the unanticipated change in line up or the impact of the pandemic, but Sigur Rós are tighter, sharper and considerably less whimsical than ever before. A ready sense of humour is present though; merchandise for the show has had the word ‘Takk’ replaced with ‘Tax’.

At Laugardalshöll, we are treated to a return of Amiina with their strings and Brassgat í bala with, well, brass for the first time in fourteen years. It’s a shame then, that Laugardalshöll isn’t the best venue, largely vacuous and with all the acoustics of a fish warehouse.

The first half is perhaps more introspective with a starting trio reliant on ( ), which is unsurprising considering the album’s recent twentieth birthday. The lighting and visuals are stunning, with Vaka accompanied by a laser etched skull in terrifying red. Svefn-f-englar and Ny Batteri return like old friends before the only new piece of the evening in Gold 2. Let’s hope this is a sign of new material to come. Heysátan is an early delight, with Brassgat í bala huddled around the band, bringing a tenderness all of its own. We’re left with the gentle refrain of Smáskifa, whilst in the back ground, a telephone wire is home to a flock of restless silhouette birds.

Doing away with a support act, perhaps to prevent any interference with the surgically precisioned stage set up, Sigur Rós present themselves in two acts with a civilised intermission at the halfway point. There’s no banter with the crowd either; Jonsí only once speaks to thank the audience for coming. No matter, the band provide warmth in a different way.

They return with Glósóli from the album Takk, with its pounding drums. Sæglópur is an absolute highlight, despite the sad meaning and visuals of a child being lost at sea. We’re treated to Gong and a poignant Andvari from Takk too. If worried that Amiina had added little to the first half, it was here that the girls made themselves heard, with Andavri leaving most of the crowd wiping their eyes.

The euphoric Festival was surely written to be a festival crowd pleaser, and there’s a lovely added surprise with a reprise from local school brass band performed from a balcony high above the audience. It’s the sort of heart-rending, spontaneous event that could only happen in Iceland.

We’re straight back to it though. Kveikur is a show of force, leaving anyone that just came for wedding soundtrack favourite Hoppípolla perhaps thinking they’d seen the wrong band. Traditional closer Popplagið – ironically translated as ‘pop song’ – leaves no room for doubt. With Amiina and Brassgat í bala adding their weight, Popplagið climaxes with such intensity that the crowd are enveloped in a wall of sound, only to be left with reverb ringing in their ears as the band leaves the stage. They return briefly to take a bow, beneath a banner that reads only ‘Takk’. Takk indeed, Sigur Rós.