Last night I heard a band that I didn't understand. This wasn't a disappointment because I'd been told going into it that I wouldn't know what they were saying until I brushed up on my Icelandic.
"Do you know Sigur Ros?" my friend Vicky had asked me last week, correcting herself a couple of times on the pronunciation. "They're from Iceland. They're a post-rock type band."
"Can you spell that?" I asked.
"No, I mean 'post-rock.' What the hell is that?"
She explained what post-rock was, and then explained where Iceland was. And then I remembered Iceland as a place where they put the letter "j" in strange places, which is why I couldn't correctly pronounce "Bjork" until 1996.
"I got two tickets to their show. You wanna come with me?"
Vicky knew to ask me even though I didn't know the band because she knows that I like hearing new music and she knows that I need to get out of the house.
So I got out of the house and went with her to Champion Square, which is like a large courtyard with nowhere to sit. We stood outside with the sun going down, and patchy, fast-moving rain clouds above us that sprinkled from time to time but not enough to drive us away. The crowd varied in age, and I was guessing from their blanks stares, and also from the description I'd read of the band as "ethereal" and "ambient" that no one was going to get rowdy and throw their underwear onstage, though some of them had probably forgotten to put their underwear on that day. I'm pretty sure I got a secondhand high from the guy standing next to me who was smoking a joint like a cigarette. I'd never seen someone smoke a joint by themselves before, only in groups where it's a social thing and everyone gets a hit. So though I don't smoke it anymore, I felt I had to get high on principle. Because he was being a greedy bastard.
The opening band threw me off. I don't know their name, but they were comprised of an angelic female singer and a guy on guitar who played lovely music that you would get a massage to while film footage of a floating dead bride played on the screen above them. I think it was supposed to get me to think about the beauty of death, or the death of a bride in marriage, or that wedding veils should not be used as a flotation device, or that drowning to massage music is the way to go, or something. But whatever the message was supposed to be, all it left me thinking after a while was, "I've been watching a dead body float for a half an hour and I want a therapist." Don't get me wrong, they were good, but now I'm afraid of water. And commitment.
After they finished there was a 45 minute break where more people came, and the lone smoker's friends showed up so he was forced to share his next joint, and I thought better of him. It worries me a little about myself that I was so bothered, not that the person next to me was doing something illegal, but that he wasn't sharing.
Then Sigur Ros came on. I'll try to tell you this band, but I'm not sure if I can describe the sound without you hearing it. You might already know them and don't need me to tell you about them. But if you don't, then I want to get this right because that's the point of this post - not to tell you about my night out, but to tell you about this music.
So I'll stop trying to write something that will make me sound like a reviewer and just tell you this: I liked them a lot. I liked them infinitely better than I liked watching a dead bride float in water. They play a lot of instruments and they play them well. There was a French horn up there, and a guitar that the lead singer played with a bow, and drums, and an accordion, and chimey things, and a trombone, and a bass, and tamboriney things, and many other instruments I'm sure that I just couldn't see in the dark and the smoke coming from the stage. And the music was indeed ambient and ethereal at times but it didn't stay that way. It drifted from dreamy and soft to a driving, groaning sound, and then back again like someone singing softly while they hold you tight and just when it starts to hurt they loosen their grip. The singer's voice wasn't male or female, it was high without being feminine or a child's, and it was gentle without being innocent. It had pain and hope in it. The contrast of that voice with the driving drums lifted me up by the gut.
Vicky tugged on my sleeve in the middle of a song that I can't name because I don't know what they were saying. It was so loud that I couldn't understand what she was saying either, so I bent down so that she could say into my ear, "You should close your eyes."
So I did. And maybe it was my second hand high, but blocking out the audience and the lights from the stage really did make me feel the music more powerfully.
I've been playing them today on Youtube, not knowing what songs to look up so I've just been clicking on all of them. I'm pretty sure it was "Hoppipolla" that was playing when Vicky told me to close my eyes. And though it's good, it's nothing like it was live where I could feel the music in my chest. So you should see them live if you can, and if you can't look up "Hoppipolla" and close your eyes.
And if you haven't heard a bow guitar, play "Brennisteinn." A bow guitar to me sounds like thunder gnashing its teeth. The video will trip you out and make you afraid of video tape and the color yellow.
The one link I'll share with you is "Glosoli" because I know they played this, and I don't think I opened my eyes at all during it. This is, again, a weird video but it's got a drummer boy and post-apocalyptic Icelandic children. At exactly 3 minutes and 50 seconds I can close my eyes and feel ache of that drum in my chest.