Part of Walt Disney Concert Hall's Reykjavik Festival celebrating the art and culture of Iceland's capital, the iconic band Sigur Rós makes its debut at the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Part of a three night stint, Friday night's show was a three-part event that began with two opening musical acts: "Schola Cantorum Reykjavik" a chamber choir from Hallgrímskirkja, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducting some really unusual pieces by Icelandic composers Anna Thorvaldsdottir ("Aeriality") and Haukur Tomasson's "Piano Concerto No. 2" which had its U.S. premiere.
After a brief intermission, the stars of the evening arrived. Backed by the L.A. Phil, the iconic band features Jón Þór "Jónsi" Birgisson on guitar, lead vocals, and keys, Georg Hólm on bass guitar and keys, and Orri Páll Dýrason on drums and keys. The trio's lovely, elegiac, and haunting music was brought to new life with the addition of the orchestra, which enhanced the beautifully elegant music through arrangements by eight different composers including Nico Muhly, David Lang, and Anna Meredith. Jónsi's iconic falsettos filled the concert hall with an ethereal quality that reminded what a jaw-dropping vocalist he is. (Not to mention, he held a trademark sustained note again for well over a minute.)
In the first set, the band played eight of their most famous compositions such as "Ekki mukk," "Takk/Glosoli," "Staralfur," and "Fljótavik" with beautiful orchestrations by Meredith. The lighting was fairly muted as compared to their stadium shows, but it reflected and danced around the walls of the concert hall like a dreamy starfield.
After another intermission (it was a long night), the band re-emerged solo and jammed through six of their songs including "Ny Batteri," "Vaka," "Kveikur," and ended with the epic and earth-rattling "Popplagid." The band played past 11 p.m., making this a rather lengthy evening. While Sigur Rós and L.A. Phil under Esa-Pekka Salonen delivered the goods, the one drawback (aside from it being relatively warm inside the theater) was opening the night with an entire hour of music by which to go to sleep.
While technically impressive, the "Aeriality" piece had so many sustained notes and unsettling chords, it reminded one of the darker portions of Hans Zimmer's "Interstellar" score. The pieces were lengthy and complex so that by the time Sigur Rós took the stage, the audience needed a pick-me-up. Granted, with a hall filled with dedicated fans, ears were definitely perked. But not to take away from the other composers that the Reykjavik Festival was celebrating, Sigur Rós would have filled the evening just fine.
Sigur Rós played April 13-15 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall as part of their Reykjavik Festival that runs through June 4. For more information about the festival and other upcoming events, visit www.laphil.com. For more information about Sigur Rós, visit sigur-ros.co.uk.