My English friend and I arrived at the stadium about fifteen minutes before the doors were scheduled to open. The line ran the length of the building, and soon wrapped around out of site. Even so, someone pulled into an empty parking spot right in front of us. Thousands of people were going to this show, but most of them were walking.
Doors opened on time and we crowded into the lobby, only to discover that the inner doors were still closed. After half an hour, those doors opened and everyone pushed inside. Bright lights in the ceiling shone in our eyes but the hall still seemed dark. You couldn’t see where you were going, but everyone broke into a run, trying to get to the front. As we all ran blindly, I was reminded of the scene in Eli Weisel’s Night at the end of the war when the Nazis chased the prisoners through the forest with the Allies on their heels. Suddenly everyone veered to the right, and I lost sight of my English friend. I never saw her again.
The stage was actually to the side of the entrance, instead of the end of the building we had been running towards. Although I had been close to the front of the throng coming in the doors, I was close to the middle sideways. I ended up a good 40 to 50 people back from the stage.
At 7:00 the room began to buzz with excitement, and people started jostling to get closer to the stage. I ended up surrounded by a group of teenagers. Each of them was at least six feet tall. They were all fit and attractive and young enough to think that not being those things was silly. As the minutes stretched out, they entertained themselves by making fun of the people around them, pointing and giggling like Chip and Dale the cartoon chipmunks.
By 7:45 my ankle was killing me and a thumb-sized blister on my other foot had popped. The chipmunks were laughing at the size of the butts of the people standing around them. People were starting to mutter about bands that didn’t respect their audience. I began to worry that this was going to be a Guns N Roses ca. 1990 situation, and decided I would only hold out until 8:15.
At 8:10 sharp the lights went down and the crowd pressed in even closer. All I could see was shoulder blades. If I craned my head, I could see a light, and the top of a thin curtain that rose to the ceiling. I was so disappointed – I had come so far, and waited so long, and my feet hurt, and I couldn’t even see the stage. I admit it. I cried. The chipmunks noticed and pointed and giggled.
But the thing is, it was Sigur Rós. That incredible crystalline sound that is so delicate on the recording was viscous and palpable live. The air was thick and heavy with it. Even if you couldn’t see the stage, you could taste the music.
And then a miracle happened. The veil dropped from the ceiling and the chipmunks, those indolent, lazy, disrespectful creatures, lied down. They stretched their giant frames out on the floor with their heads on their backpacks and cleared the space in front of me. A tiny little space opened up between two silhouetted heads that perfectly framed Jónsi’s face. And I had that tiny perfect view for the rest of the concert.
I was so grateful for those obnoxious teenagers who gave me a glimpse of the stage! I suddenly remembered the scene in Corrie Ten Boom’s “The Hiding Place,” when the fleas in the concentration camp turned out to be a blessing.
Why all the Holocaust imagery? I have no idea. I don’t think of Sigur Rós in a dark way at all. Knowing nothing about the lyrics, I go by their sound, which I find transcendent and uplifting. Maybe live it was just so disarming that all kinds of things work their way free.
I mentioned before about those moments in your life when everything changes; when you’re hit by a car or a concert and everything is different afterwards because you are different. Everyone expects that from a Sigur Rós concert – at least a lot of the people I talked to at Airwaves did. But of course, you never have those experiences when you’re expecting them. Expectation sort of precludes the possibility. The evening certainly started out like the huge letdown you would expect from too high expectations. So when the experience turned out to be all that was expected, when it’s a second mind-altering, soul-shifting show in less than a week… well, words fail me.
It’s not easy to find good words to talk about the work that music does on a person’s insides. But lots of people are talking about the new song that Sigur Rós debuted at that show. There’s a pretty good video of it here:
As you can see, it’s pretty different from any of their other stuff, which gives people even more to talk about. You can also see that they did a little laser thing. When the lasers started, the chipmunk kids all jumped up and turned in circles, pointing to the ceiling and back of the room in surprise. These small town chipmunks had never seen a laser show! Because I’m a grown up, I didn’t say anything. But on the inside, I pointed and giggled.