I, along with two friends, made the trek down to Portland to see one of my favorite bands. As one would expect, McMenamin’s Edgefield Theater was transformed into a hipster Disneyland. The venue, a beautiful outdoor estate waxed by 80 degree temperatures and the hue of the setting sun, was splashed with a variety of plaid unseen since Seattle in the early 1990’s. In the merch line, I listened to people conversing about the trips that they made to see their favorite band. Two men up from Los Angeles. Another from Missouri. The excitement was tangible. The grounds were marked by sun bathers on blankets, PBR’s tipped back, basking in what was akin to a slice of heaven. The music only enhanced this mood.
Sigur Ros started playing at 7:30, with the sun still beating but beginning to retreat. The group’s hymns of hope and love emanated with emotion, feeling and touch. Jonsi’s reverb laden croon spoke clearly. I closed my eyes and listened, falling into and out of total absorption, losing myself and finding my consciousness again. I listened to hear what makes Sigur Ros’ music beautiful. The band often centers around the tonic, the melodic and harmonic center of the key that they are in, and twists and winds themselves around it. There are layers – the bass and drums hold down the center and rhythm, they are the core. Ambient noise from Jonsi’s bowed guitar and from keyboards and electronics provide a floating texture. The orchestra, three strings and three brass instruments, along with the keyboard instruments, guitar, and Jonsi’s voice, bends and expounds around the tonic. One voice submerges while another rises, a counterpoint that expands and swells. Then climax. A meeting point. A new direction.
Sigur Ros’ music is subtle. It lends itself to repeated listens. While some have dismissed the band for being too bland, not rough enough, “white” in the words of one Seattle critic, I question whether those people have taken their time to delve into the band’s catalog. Once there, once immersed, I have found a depth of emotional exploration. They are affecting. They are polished, but maintain an edge that some critics have said they lack.
The encore. Fifteen minutes of “Untitled 8”, the closer from their () album. The best fifteen minutes of live music that I’ve ever experienced. The band’s sound grew and grew, reaching for the heavens and building an anticipation that ended in an explosion of pure bliss. If the trip wasn’t worth it before the encore (it was), then these fifteen minutes cemented the value of a day spent in pursuit of an unrivaled musical experience. I’m lucky and blessed.