Published on September 26th, 2013 | by Stratton Lawrence0
Review: Sigur Rós Transcendent at the Performing Arts Center
North Charleston Performing Arts Center
I stagger to my car in North Charleston, unsure if I can drive after taking a drug so powerful. Jaw agape, eyes wide, I wonder over and over whether that really just happened.
(Three hours prior)
Beer in hand at the Royal American, my friend Ryan looks me in the eye and lays it down: “It’s a religious experience. You have to go.”
Moments before, I check e-mail at the urinal and see that a last-minute ticket has come through to see Sigur Rós. I’ve been listening to them for over a decade, beginning in 2003 when a friend gave me a burned copy of ( ). Weird “name” for an album? Of course, and this was odd music. But it relaxed me. Ten years later, Sigur Rós is the cornerstone of my “Writing” playlist on Spotify. I listen to them literally every day. But live? I’m curious, but not convinced enough to settle my tab and head up I-26. But Ryan drops “religious.” I have to call his bluff.
Within seconds of finding a seat at the Performing Arts Center, I’m transfixed. Frontman Jónsi Birgisson has his guitar around his knees, bowing it to produce drawn out, ethereal tones. Above that, his high droning wail dominates the upper register. Did he invent this type of singing-cum-epic-rock, or did Thom Yorke? Radiohead might be the closest thing to compare this too, with an ambience that relaxes you deep into your seat, preparing your muscles for the next slow build. Between three strings and three horns in an 11-piece band, there’s a lot of noise to be made.
Sigur Rós was initially supposed to perform in the Coliseum. Most of their American tour takes place in massive venues, but in Charleston their fans are still a choice bunch. That meant that the PAC hosted a show designed for a coliseum-level of production. Signs on the entrance doors warned of strobes, appropriately so. The band commands your attention, treating their audience to constant sensory overload without ever breaking a sweat.
Fans aren’t even sure how to handle it. The clapping and applause between songs almost feels like a reaffirmation of, “We’re still here. On Earth. Despite that rocketship that just launched us into space.”
The lights flash and soar, the music creeps into pores, and I completely give in to it all.
Late in the show, Jónsi holds a vocal note for an impossibly long time. About 20 seconds in, people start to squirm. They yelp and applaud and cheer for this physically impressive feat. Jónsi waits them out. When the audience is again silent, he releases the note.
Soon thereafter, he releases us all. The conclusion is so big and so, yes, epic, that an encore would feel redundant. The band reappears on stage and takes a bow. We shuffle out, glare at each other in bewilderment, and contemplate the church of Sigur Rós.
Photos by Stratton Lawrence.
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