When Sigur Rós walked on stage and began playing "Svefn-g-englar" (aka the Steve Zissou track), I could imagine the disgruntled aristocracy. The nerve frontman Jónsi had, to widtle away his electric guitar with a violin bow. Monocles would fall into martini glasses and white gloves would clench.
But the blended Schnitz crowd knew that what is arguably Iceland's greatest band is at home in any theatre, opera house, or concert hall. The band's sweeping, transcendent sound was all the richer, sounding better than any of its many outstanding recordings.
Without its string section and band in themselves Amiina, Jónsi had to compensate for a potential lack of layering. And that he did, extracting thunderstorms from his guitar topped only by his wailing. Often holding notes for half a minute, he took advantage of his lofty surroundings, filling them full with his choir boy exclamations.
Scratchy video of children played in the background, matching Sigur Rós' set note for note. A split screen of action displayed all four members during the intro to a glockenspiel-ridden "Saeglópur," while metronomic electric candles matched the many turns of "Heysátan." Jónsi's thunderous strumming hit crescendo during a lengthy version of "Ný Batterí," a song of many parts and tremendous feeling.
Though it is not a performance act, Sigur Rós don't not bombard the listener with unnecessary effects. The show's props and media were simple but strong, much like the music itself. A standing ovation brought the Icelanders back for a pair of encores, just after a snowstorm of confetti sent listeners into a frenzy. It was just as emotional as melodic and vast.
It's a sound unique to band and country. Portland was lucky to experience it for one night.
Photos by Mark Stock