Downsized Sigur Rós transfix Orpheum Theatre with two hours of spiritually majestic power

Sigur Ros performing at Orpheum Theatre on September 29, 2016.

Sigur Ros performing at Orpheum Theatre on September 29, 2016. Nicole Feest

Sigur Rós have spent their entire musical career creating ethereal soundscapes that their fans can blissfully lose themselves within.

The Icelandic post-rock group -- now touring as a trio of core members, Jón "Jónsi" Birgisson, Georg Hólm, and Orri Páll Dýrason -- stripped things down for this intimate theater tour, forgoing their customary string and orchestra backing band, while eschewing an opening act altogether in favor of two distinctive sets to fill the evening.

While the group’s setup and scope was more refined, their diaphanous music itself was still infused with the raw emotion, fragile intensity, and evocative beauty that has won over music fans across the globe for more than 20 years now. That new formula certainly captivated the sold-out Oprheum Theatre on Thursday night in Minneapolis. 

The trio entered the darkened stage to the sound of storms that suggested either the beginning or the end of the world. And throughout their two-hour set, Sigur Rós continually conjured up sonic echoes of those two cataclysmic events, with moments of hypnotic tranquility threaded throughout the spellbinding performance.

A live performance by Sigur Rós allows fans the rare opportunity to spend a couple of hours quietly contemplating just what music (and life, if you want to get deep) means to them. With songs that broadly cover the entire spectrum of human emotions, you're allowed to consider precisely how the art form can and does move you. Their music conveys so much passion and pain, joy and heartbreak, love and loss, all without Jónsi uttering one comprehensible word in his hymn-like falsetto blend of Icelandic and Hopelandic lyrics.

The light show and stage set Thursday were top quality, and as grand and ambitious a production as you'll find in an intimate theater setting. The band members were framed by striking images that brought to mind Tron, an alien abduction, the depths of space, the human genome, and a volcanic eruption -- all of which complimented the waves of untethered noise that washed gracefully over the rapt audience.

With the new lineup arrangement, the group reworked much of their old material, scaling back on some of the more grandiose moments in some numbers, while turning up the controlled cacophony on others. The more fluid and gossamer songs have grown even more nebulous and airy, all while losing none of their dreamlike poignancy or mesmerizing tone.

The 55-minute opening set featured a slow-burning start, with opener "A" echoing the droney pre-show music that set the mood in the theater as it filled to capacity. “Samskeyti” and “E-Bow” followed, fully igniting the show. Then came the taut elegance of “Glósóli,” with the foggy island seascapes that filled the backdrop giving way to a swirl of storm clouds and sunbursts. The thunderous rhythm of the song reverberated off of the walls of the stately, venerable theater.

The 65-minute second set started with the trio huddled tightly together on a riser at the back of the stage, with a light-adorned scrim covering the band. Again, the group eased their way into things with the hushed beauty of their new single, “Oveour.' That was followed by a gorgeous rendition of “Starálfur,” with the group even giving a subtle nod to its famous use in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, as an watery ocean-floor scene filled the backdrop.

Sigur Rós’ other recognizable “hits” followed, as “Sæglópur,” “Vaka,” and a euphoric version of “Festival” lit up the room, before the simmering, untamed discordance of “ P o p p l a g i o” earned the group a well-earned standing ovation.

Blood-red geometric lights colored the majority of the stunning second set, adding to the mood and intensity of the music itself, while also suggesting warped digital maps of something as small as a strand of DNA or as expansive as the entire universe itself. Both of those dimensions are ever present in the music of Sigur Rós, as their songs touch on concerns that are both intensely personal as well as eternal. The band conjures memories that can come from your dreams as easily as your waking life.

There is certainly something spiritual within the music of Sigur Rós, and at a time when healing is needed everywhere you turn, their music served as a collective catharsis to their dedicated fans. The ills of the world were waiting for us as soon as we left the theater and turned on the news or tapped into social media. But for those two brief hours, those Icelandic musicians helped us all heal, leaving us to go forth and share some of their magic with others in order to better us all.

Critic’s bias: My wife and I walked down the aisle to “Starálfur” at our wedding. I love this band so much that I wanted them to be part of the most special day of my life. 


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