No, this post isn’t about Bon Iver. I left the house two nights in a row for the first time in a while. On Monday night I saw Sigur Rós at the Fox Theater in Pomona followed by A Perfect Circle at San Diego State University.
Sigur Rós played a handful of shows in the area within a week and I had some difficulty picking which one to attend. It was a choice between their standard touring set and a special performance with the LA Philharmonic at the beautiful Walt Disney Concert Hall. I was leaning towards the latter, of course, but general admission floor tickets were still available at face value while secondhand tickets for the Phil shows were upwards of $200. My decision was made for me, but luckily it was announced later in the week that Pitchfork was streaming one of the special performances. Problem solved.
My memory has really gone to shit in recent years, so maybe one of my friends can correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe it had been 16 years since I last saw Sigur Rós perform. Somewhere in the middle of that I caught Jónsi solo at Coachella, but essentially the band’s entire career had unfolded in that time. Five new album cycles missed, including my favorite, the untitled ‘( )’ koala emoticon one. I’ve watched their beautiful and enchanting Heima countless times and even worked it into a first date routine for a while—sort of a practical joke on myself (ask me if you don’t know the story), but also because it’s an incredible piece of art and driving to LACMA can often be a pain in the ass. I played them many times on my old radio shows, had countless bar conversations about them, and remained a steadfast fan despite not being able to catch them play. Stripped down to a three-piece with no accompanying brass or strings and having no idea what the setlist would be like, I was afraid the performance would be limp.
I was completely wrong. Though at first I wasn’t sure. They opened with a brand new song and Jónsi seemed particularly pissed off at the sound guy, so with no frame of reference things seemed to be going awry. As with most things Sigur Rós it all came down to patience and dynamics. It took the better part of three songs for Jónsi to reach detente with the sound guy, meanwhile the band continued to build with “Ekki Múkk” (from the underrated Valtari) and “Glósóli” as their impressive lighting rig began to come alive. By the time the band hit the crescendo of ‘( )’‘s untitled sixth song, also known as “E-Bow”, we were all floating. I should have taken drugs.
After nearly an hours worth of music, there was a scheduled intermission while the band prepared for a second set. Things proceeded much in the same vein for the latter half of the show. Impressive visuals accompanied a broad mix of songs from all of their albums except Von and a couple new ones (though none of the “hits” insomuch as this band has hits). Through the clever use of sampled backing tracks and rotating keyboard duty, the three remaining members of Sigur Rós sounded absolutely massive. The star of the show was the instrument that sounded just as good as it did 16 years ago: Jónsi’s otherworldly voice. He will never find himself on a list of the great singers of our time because art music is under-appreciated and misunderstood, but hearing him live is like seeing a new color. He is a special talent. Twenty years on, there is still no one like Sigur Rós.
If somehow I wasn’t already feeling old enough, the next night I travelled the 90 miles down to the SDSU campus to see a band I last saw 18 years ago: A Perfect Circle. This show was more of a gamble. Despite Maynard being a reclusive weirdo, I’ve managed to see Tool a few times over the years, including last year in January also on the SDSU campus. While Maynard’s voice is always incredible, his attitude and level of engagement with the audience can vary wildly. Tool fans are notoriously awful and I wonder sometimes if Maynard is such a troll in response, making the fans worse and perpetuating the cycle.
There was the ever-present Maynard question, but this was also the band’s fifth show into a reunion tour of sorts, having not seriously hit the road in six years. Then, of course, there’s the fact that they only have two albums, both old enough to be in high school, one of which I’ve become unacquainted with beyond its Failure cover. (Yes, I know they have a third album, but a covers album released to fulfill a record contract doesn’t count to me). These potential problems all materialized in their own ways, but an unforeseen wrench would be thrown in my concert experience.
After waiting in endless beer and bathroom lines (seriously, one line for each?) and having to overhear the truly atrocious opening band, Prayers, I took my amazing seat in the 10th row on the center aisle. There were still a lot of single tickets left available, so I lucked out. The band sounded great from the opening notes of “The Package,” a Thirteenth Step song I couldn’t have told you the name of unless I was looking at the setlist. The stage setup was more pedestrian than what I saw the night before, but the visuals were still entertaining. Billy Howerdel and Matt McJunkins went to work on the stage, while James Iha, Maynard, and Jeff Friedl played from uneven risers with video screens at their bases. Above the stage was a triptych of horizontal video screens that worked in tandem with the risers.
I knew the second song quite well, but came to the realization that I was that guy who goes to Pearl Jam shows but has only heard Ten. I had fourteen years to get familiar with Thirteenth Step so that one’s on me. The Maynard x-factor came into play after “Rose” from the album I do know, Mer de Noms. At Tool shows he always gives a shout-out to active and former members of the U.S. Armed Forces. As San Diego is home to several military installations, this elicited a healthy cheer from the crowd. The singer then asked, “Who here could be called a snowflake libtard?” I chuckled and gave a clap or two while the crowd made noticeably less noise than moments before. He continued, “Well, these folks defend your right to be idiots.” Then the band launched into their version of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
After introducing “Thinking of You” as “a song about anal sex,” it became clear that was toying with the audience. I feel with the current political climate, it’s important for people with a voice to be clear in their message against the administration instead of pandering or trolling. Or at least make better jokes. Avoiding political discourse he commented on the news of the day with “united we stand against United!” His weirdest moment came during “Thinking of You,” where he changed the titular refrain to “thinking of Shake Weight, thinking of Shake Weight” while making the infamous hand gestures. Dated and bizarre.
Anyhow, the band sounded polished despite any doubts about rust. Whether or not I was familiar with all the material was irrelevant as live music performed this well is a gift, but unfortunately there was the aforementioned wrench. Presumably because of the new song they’re performing and the untested nature of these shows, the band instituted a no photos, audio, or video policy. This essentially meant a no-phone policy, unless one was content to sit and text throughout the show, but that’s a different story. Unfortunately this policy caused a hardcore power trip amongst the security company called Elite Services. As I was seated on the aisle, they were constantly leaning in front of me or rushing past me down the row to tell someone to put their phone away. The SDSU campus also has a strict no-smoking policy, yet instead of merely telling people put out cigarettes, the security staff went around smelling cigarettes, presumably looking to eject anyone smoking weed. Despite the fact that possession of marijuana is now legal in California, I assume this is in line with campus policy also. Regardless of the rules themselves, the method of enforcement created a hardcore aggro-police vibe in the venue that I think the band would have been opposed to.
The security personnel mentally and physically distracted me throughout the show and I left feeling dissatisfied. That they didn’t play my favorite song wasn’t much help either. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Sigur Rós – April 10th, 2017
Fox Theater, Pomona, CA
1. Á (new)
2. Ekki Múkk
6. Niður (new)
8. Óveður (new)
11. Ný Batterí
A Perfect Circle – April 11th, 2017
SDSU Open Air Theatre, San Diego, CA
1. The Package
2. The Hollow
3. The Noose
4. Weak and Powerless
6. Imagine (John Lennon cover)
7. Thinking of You (Thinking of Shake Weight)
8. By and Down
10. (What’s So Funny ’bout) Peace, Love and Understanding (Brinsley Schwarz cover)
13. Counting Bodies Like Sheep to the Rhythm of the War Drums
15. A Stranger
17. The Outsider
19. Feathers (new)