Melbourne, Australia, July 31, 2008
I run into the boys on Smith Street. We’ve come to be fond of Melbourne. And this time round, our second visit in a year, its familiarity is a welcome comfort after the mid-bending trip halfway round the planet. The shops are setting up to close, so Georg, Orri, Kjartan, sousaphone player Ingi and me repair to a small Japanese restaurant a few paces away to see what our stomachs are capable of. Jetlag hits in unpredictable ways with time losing all meaning, so there’s no telling whether you’re going to be hungry and what meal your body thinks it needs. Still it’s good to eat, even if our trips to Tokyo and the West Coast of America have sharpened our appreciation of what decent Japanese food ought to taste like – which is better than this. (Sorry if we sound like a bunch of tossers).
I suggest we go see ‘Black Knight’ at the local mall-cum-multiplex as an untaxing way of spending the evening, but Georg and Orri say they’ll fall asleep and want to save it as a treat for when they are in better shape. In the end it’s just me and Kjartan. I won’t fall asleep because I’ve been asleep most of the day. The film provides what we require; mildly diverting hoo-ha with a wafer-thin patina of substance. Afterwards the hoped for tiredness remains elusive, so we call up the others, hoping they are going to be in a bijou bar somewhere we can join them til sleep descends. Instead they say they are back on Smith St in a dubious looking club called Barry’s, which I spotted on a corner earlier in the day. Apparently there’s a queue, but Jonsi negotiated with the doorman by using his position as singer in a famous band to get them all in, despite the fact that the guy had never actually heard of the Sigur Ros. Kjartan makes it clear that he finds this kind of shameless blagging far beyond the pale…but doesn’t mind if I do it on our behalf, which I do.
Inside, I immediately wonder why we bothered, the place is kind of cavernous and heaving but without any obvious identity, just a load of young kids on the piss. The music sounds like bad Marilyn Manson to me, and Orri confirms it is indeed Marilyn Manson, although apparently the more revered end of his ouevre. I stand around for the requisite number of minutes, seeing if I’ve misread the place, and then look for a companion to join my exit. Kjartan and Georg say they want to go too, but when I get outside only Kjartan has followed. It’s typical of Georg to waiver when there’s the prospect of one last beer to be had – I don’t think I’m revealing a state secret in saying that.
We walk back through the crisp quasi-European air of the city, through the park past the now silent, and wonderfully odd birdlife, and climb the stairs to a small wine bar near the Windsor Hotel. By now it’s properly late, but still tiredness is over the horizon. K orders a local Chardonnay and me a coffee, and over a couple of rounds we talk about the need to find meaning and purpose in the creative process. Or maybe it was something about the essential mystery at the heart of creation. Anyway, we stab away at profundity, each fumbling with the inarticulacy that comes over you when you try to speak about this stuff.
I remember saying something about Sigur Ros performing a philosophical function in the mind of the listener, and asked whether or not the band were deliberate in, or aware of, creating this, now or ever. Understandably K was unable to answer, since analysis is something the band pretty much deliberately eschew.
One thing’s clear, the things you feel at 20 aren’t the things you feel at 30 (the age period in which I have known Kjartan), or what you feel at 40, which I accomplished sometime back. It’s just a shame that so little of the accumulated so-called understanding seems to be much use to anyone. The important thing is to never rest and treat complacency with huge suspicion. Or maybe it isn’t…I don’t know. Maybe I’m finally tired…
Melbourne, Australia, Aug 1, 2008
Today is the first time that Sigur Ros will play an electric concert without Amiina since the year 2001, as far anyone can work out. There’s some debate about this, but although the girls played with boys at the Union Chapel in London back in the summer of 2000, as well as for a whole bunch of shows in the months following that, we are pretty certain they weren’t on the US tour just after 9/11 in 2001, though no-one can quite remember why. Back then of course they were called Anima and had Olaf Julia playing the violin instead of Hildur, but either way they are none of them here now. So, tonight’s going to be special, something of an experiment. Four of the brass boys are here, or rather 3 of the usuals plus new recruit Kjartan Hakonarson. I’m intrigued and excited to see what it will do to the dynamics of the set.
(hours pass til soundcheck)
Hey, guess what? The set’s the same as we played at Latitude (i.e. our last gig), only with Ny Batteri and Fljotavik added. Sigur Ros like to ease themselves in gently to change and nobody seems to think there’s any need to do anything hasty and make a radical overhaul to the set just because a third of our onstage tally are suddenly missing. I guess I was hoping for a long-gone stalwart of when SR were a quartet, like Deathsong or E-bow, to creep back in immediately, but I can see it’s going to take some work til we get to that place.
The venue, which tons of folks had written to the messageboard saying we shouldn’t play ‘cos the sound is frequently dire, turns out to be more than OK, once we get use to the fact that its brutally cold for soundcheck – I don’t think we knew it could get that cold in Australia. It’s an old boxing arena and really wide but shallow front to back. The soundcheck is typically SR cursory, perhaps more so than usual since most people on stage are suffering badly from jetlag sleep deprivation. However, Sigur Ros are amazingly unflappable in the face of these kind of challenges (playing without the strings) and nobody seems the least bit bothered that today is the start of a new chapter.
If only the people on the receiving end were so chilled about it. There’s been some amazingly alarmist shit on the messageboard, ever since I told Darren at 18 Seconds that we’d be going to the States as a four-piece come Sept. Some people are getting really het up about it, wondering if the band are suddenly going to suck without the buttressing of strings and brass. How will they play ‘Fljotavik’ without Amiina? Erm, same way they did on the album with a Mellotron or, better yet, a sample of a Mellotron.
Ask yourselves, have Sigur Ros ever let you down? Have they ever let you down? They have never let you down, have they? I work with them all the time and, as frustrating as that can be sometimes (don’t ask), they are a thousand percent musically trustworthy. I don’t even know why I’m wasting my breath telling you this. Sigur Ros will tour America as a quartet. They will rock. Hard.
I love the conspiracy thread on the messageboard that someone, somewhere (some shady eminence gris - me, perhaps?) has pulled the plug on Amiina touring with SR just to make more money, A profit scheme! $$$! Yeah, that’s why they’ve toured with the girls for the past 7 years, so we can all reel you in like suckers to a position of dumb trust, and then, BAM!, snatch it all away, and retire to count the lucre, while the poor exploited fans tolerate a piece of shit simulacrum of a once great band. I can’t believe we didn’t do it sooner.
Anyway, I digress. Melbourne. As it turns out, the show is really, quite good. Everyone who’s been on stage, and others besides, says so. Ok, I miss the pizzicato strings in Hafsol, but tomorrow we will rectify that by having two of the brass boys play it on a flugelhorn (or perhaps glock). Obviously there’s a whole layer of beauty absent from proceedings without Amiina, but generally the songs stand on their feet pretty well, and - absolutely no disrespect to absent friends - anyone coming to the band for the first time would probably not have identified an absence at all, which has got to be good, right?
Gobbledigook is especially fine tonight, perhaps because it’s a little slower than it’s been played recently (plus we have really effective homemade confetti bazookas!). Anyway, it achieves real take off velocity tonight, when it’s sometimes an unholy racket held together by exuberance and sheer spirit.
Freysi (Freyr Vilhelmsson lighting designer) and Jelle (Jelle Kuiper sound dude) accomplish a great job. In roadie parlance their position in the booth at the back of the room from whence they control the show is known as ‘front of house’. However, with touching delusions of grandeur, they are now asking to be referred to as the Royal House of Front, and are developing their own crest n’ stuff.
If you’ve seen Sigur Ros lately, or are going to soon, I want to go on record as saying that these guys (along with monitor guy Finnur) need to take a huge credit for the power and impact of what you witness and perceive. Freysi has been with the band for years now, always adapting and developing and tweaking the lights and effects you see at a show. Sometimes we might collaborate with outside set designers, say we did a minor consultation with Paul Normandale on the Takk tour (much of which we ended up not using at all), but then people are forever saying, oh yeah, Paul Normandale designed the Sigur Ros show, didn’t he? Well no, actually, and again no disrespect to Paul, who’s a fine fellow, but I just want everyone to know that the person primarily responsible is Freysi. So take a bow, Freysi.
And while I’m at it, what an amazing Royal House of Front princeling is Jelle? OK, so tonight he didn’t know which side the brass were going to march from in Se Lest and had it in the right speaker as they emerged from the left, but other than that he is peerless. Our best ever sound guy by a country mile, and the only one who’s ever had any input into the setlist, which tells you how deeply embedded he’s become.
Incidentally, back on the stage design, that’s all going to change in the next few weeks, we do like the inflatable light balloons we’ve got at the moment, but I’m not sure we’ve ever hit the heady heights of the last tour with the gauze curtain and full visual assault during Poppsong. Anyway, we’re not exactly sure where it’s going, but come Sept it’s going to change. So watch this space…
I’ve just counted, and there’s 11 more shows with full brass and strings til it’s officially All Over. That is, next weekend in Scandinavia, the three German shows, the Benelux festivals and finally the festival shows in Ireland and Scotland. We are not taking any extra players to the Eastern European dates, in order to try and get on top of how to play as a quartet ahead of the US tour in Sept. So any of the scaredy cats who think Sigur Ros will absolutely suck as a four piece have just 11 final opportunities to catch the fully kit and caboodle before it’s gone for good. Deal with it.
Bonne nuit. It’s nearly four in the morning here. Fucking jetlag.
On a plane to Oslo, Aug 6, 2008
Missed a few days there, sorry. To catch up. Sydney was better than Melbourne. Venue was easier shape, and jetlag (and hangovers) had abated slightly meaning the sound was crazy good. Afterwards, lots of folks came up to soundbooth and said it was the best sound they’d ever heard in the Hordern Pavilion, and, modesty aside, I can believe it. Jelle did an awesome job.
Walking backstage afterwards, the band didn’t seem to think it was any better than the previous night, but that’s cos they don’t hear the room sound, and they’re just plain wrong. Prior to the show I’d berated them for not wanting to experiment and change the setlist, at least a little bit, but afterwards I was so proud of their performance that I almost felt the need to apologise. The set had seemed somehow almost definitively perfect, despite the absence of songs like Vidrar and Olsen, and pretty much everything from ( ).
In the end the problem of replicating the pizzicato strings in Hafsol had been solved by playing the motif on glock, celeste and a pair of trumpets, which all together worked a real treat.
Next day (Sunday) we fly to the Gold Coast, arriving mid afternoon to play second headline at Splendour In the Grass festival. We are sandwiched between the Vines and Wolfmother, and have only a one hour set. It’s really hard to programme a SR set that last just an hour, but giving the rocking nature of our co-billing, we opt for all the rocking-est songs from the Sydney setlist, and squeeze on five minutes early so we can shoe-horn Vid Spilum Endalaust and Med Blodnasir into a tight 65 minutes.
During Inni Mer Syngur Vitleysingur Jonsi attempts to freestyle some lyrics about trumpet player Snorri, who unwittingly snubbed him earlier by forgetting to hug him during the pre-show ritual, but he only succeeds in putting himself off his lyrical stroke, and as a result delivers a faltering version of the song, that to the insider is funny as hell. This has its roots in the performance at Arras festival in northern Francea couple of week back, where Jonsi completely lost his place in the song and ad-libbed about how it didn’t matter because they were in France and no-one would understand what he was on about anyway. If you search it out on YouTube you can see Amiina and the brass boys cracking up at this unintentional detour. As a fan of Ella Fitzgerald’s famed rendition of Mack the Knife where she completely goes off on one, I applaud their trouper-like stance on making the show go on (even though I saw and thoroughly loved Joanna Newsom corpsing her way through her set at Latitude as over and over again she forgot the lyrics and stopped a song perhaps six times).
Anyway, we partied on after at some Splendour tent, and hung out with all sorts of folks we know and don’t know. I think Jonsi did something unspeakable to one of the Wombats (not a wombat, I hasten to add), while Kjartan demonstrated his athleticism with increasingly daring gymnastic tricks, (to be fair we all did, but he was the best). He kept threatening a very drunken back somersault, but I managed to persuade him otherwise, having spent quite enough time (and money) in hospitals so far this tour (see Mexico and USA). Ingi (sousaphone) danced and (partially) stripped in one of the dancing cages, and we hung out with our good friend Will who now manages the Presets, but in a previous life worked with me managing these boys when they were really stern and unyielding (brackets record time). Anyway, we had Fun and since we had 24 hours on a plane ahead of us didn’t really bother going to bed.
To change the subject and answer a couple of things emanating from the messageboard, the reason why Amiina have not been with us in Australia was because – ta-da-da-da! – Maria and Kjartan are having a baby! Yes, it’s been speculated and it is in fact true. Maria understandably did not want to sit for 24 hours on a plane to the other side of the world to play three shows in three days and then sit for another 24 hours to come home again – oh, and spend all that time in the company of stupid drunk people. So there you go. That’s also another reason why the touring rigidly stops in November with no prospect of adding anything further. Congrats to Kjartan and Maria.
I was also intrigued by a minor thread about a suspected “hidden” voice at the start of Gobbledigook which supposedly says “What’s up, dude?”. Listening to it on headphones you can clearly here someone say at least the first two words three seconds into the song. So what is it? A psychic message pressing in from another world? Er, no actually. It’s just a bit of random speech that spilled over from Jonsi recording the children’s voices mucking about on his I-phone. The kids are Sunray and Breeze, daughters of my co-manager Dean O’Connor and the “what’s up?” voice is Dean answering the phone in our office, where the recording was made. It is intriguing though, because none of us noticed it nestling in there til it was pointed out.
The whistling at the end of Festival on the album was also recorded on I-phone and features Georg and Jonsi walking home after the recording session revisiting the melody of what they’d just worked on. Amazing thing technology.
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