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Review: Sigur Ros at Verizon Theatre

Posted 4:55pm on Tuesday, Apr. 09, 2013

Sigur Ros employs beauty like a bludgeon.

Time and again Monday night, the acclaimed Icelandic post-rock collective relied on a roar, when a whisper would have sufficed. Over the course of Sigur Ros's roughly 90-minute set at the Verizon Theatre, the repetitive soft-loud-soft dynamic, coupled with a light show cranked to 11, became wearisome and then, sadly, fatally boring. It's hard to be overwhelmed by the gorgeous sounds flowing from the stage if the band seems intent on pile-driving your senses.

It's a shame, particularly considering the band's facility on record with composing dense thickets of sound -- from 1999's breakthrough Agaetis Byrjun to last year's Valtari -- that, with a decent set of headphones and some low lighting, can often feel like slipping into a warm bath. Reportedly, the forthcoming Kveikur is a heavier, more aggressive effort; the band previewed a few tracks from the album, including lead single Brennisteinn, during the show.

But Monday, everything felt overworked: the scrim, casting the core quintet and lead singer Jonsi Birgisson, in particular, as distorted shadows well into the set's second song; the near-absence of interaction between performer and audience (although its reverent silence was welcome); the two-tiered video screen with the too-cute looped images trying to bring some coherence to the music. What was intended as dramatic merely seemed excessive.

Admittedly, part of the Sigur Ros shtick is the chilly remove, providing a richly textured soundtrack to estrangement. (The group didn't skimp on bodies: almost a dozen musicians were on stage.) And while the concept works in theory, there's something alienating (and, with sustained exposure, a bit grueling) about the insistence on singing in "Vonlenska" (or "Hopelandic," as it's known in English), a language created by the band that has no literal meaning. Watching songs you can't understand about things that don't entirely make sense at first glance takes the concert experience out of the emotional realm and into the academic.

I'm all for cerebral experiences, particularly those draped in the sonic resplendence offered by Sigur Ros, but when a concert begins to feel more like an art installation than music performed by humans, all that beauty starts to bruise.

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