Published May 29, 2017When it was announced that Sigur Rós would play an open-air gig at Ontario Place's windswept Echo Beach, it seemed at odds with the essential triumph of their symphonically-inclined post-rock — the suspended landscapes of their music are often treated as delicate stuff demanding the pristine acoustic hallows of opera houses and theatres.
But situated off Lake Ontario, with jets coming in for landing at the nearby island airport, the beach was also a setting that spoke to the vast, scenic openness of their music. So, after the 11-person Rekjanesbær Handbell Choir opened with their contemporary classical vibes (here playing glistening renditions of "Starálfur" and "Hoppípolla"), the band finally took the stage, digging in with a celebratory, elemental display of multi-sensory wonder.
This latest run of dates is an extension of a tour that's seen Sigur Rós pared down to its core trio, stripped of the string and brass performers that have augmented performances for the past decade, and the leaner presence translated into a presentation that was decidedly more "rock show."
Promised as a career-spanning performance consisting of two sets, the night recalled the diametric presentation of 2002's ( ) (perhaps not coincidentally, the album featured most prominently throughout the show) and its sweet and heavy halves — albeit, a more harrowing one that dispensed moments of drama early on, repurposing the stately, mounting desperation of "E-Bow" and "Dauðalagið" for inclusion in the concert's top half and countering it with the muscular resilience of "Festival" and "Kveikur" in the bottom.
Playing amongst an intricate setup of light scrims, while Sigur Rós tended the more intimate and introspective material in the first half, the visuals stuck to subtler, ambient touches that took the backseat as the band moved about the stage switching instruments (in order to facilitate the intricate layers the music depended on, all members helmed keyboards or synths at some point). But when they returned from the intermission, the crowd got a light show worthy of an arena. Obscured by a stage-spanning screen, Jónsi, Orri Páll Dýrason and Georg Hólm appeared at the back of the stage conjuring new tour staple "Óveður" from synths and a sample pad, curling clouds unfurling as Dýrason's sample strikes triggered explosive blasts of light.
For a dazzling "Sæglópur," the screen lifted and the band returned to the front of the stage, a celestial landscape of twinkling galaxies dancing and bursting ecstatically around them. Grander touches like this continued to amplify the intensity of tracks like "Ný Batterí" and "Vaka," a strobing assault of colour firing along to the triumphant finish of set closer "Popplagið" as the band set down their instruments and parted the stage to the dying cries of Jónsi's distorted guitar.
This all provoked rapturous cheers and applause, but when Sigur Rós returned, they just clapped right back, a big "Takk…" ("thanks," in Icelandic) scrawled across the screen behind them. Takk, indeed.