I don’t know what heaven will be like. There are angels there, I’m told. There is some biblical evidence that they sing. And if they sing, then what comes out of their seraphic mouths is probably representative of some extraterrestrial musical genre that has no counterpart on earth. God knows we’ll have had enough of the usual gangsta rappers and pop tarts and earnest singer/songwriters when we get there, and it will be a relief to hear something different. But I’d still like to believe that the angels will brandish electric guitars. There is some good here on earth, common grace abounds, and there’s no sense in the wholesale banishment of the familiar from the afterlife. The music will be new, but it will retain echoes of what was good and glorious on this earth.
And if I’m right, then I suspect I got a preview of the heavenly host last night. Sigur Ros came to town and played like garage band cherubim, making a holy racket, sculpting a wall of noise that was simultaneously soothing and soaring and teeth-rattling. It was a beautiful, gloriously loud hymn of praise, whether they intended it that way or not, and more than a few of us religious types confessed afterwards to experiencing something remarkably like worship. If this is what it’s like around the throne of God, I can’t wait.
Lead singer/cherub Jonsi played his electric guitar with a bow, like a mutant cello, and made unearthly sounds with his voice. “Eeeeeuuuuu Syyyyyy Ohhhhhh” he sang on at least six songs, his falsetto soaring impossibly upward. It’s Hopelandic, a made-up language based on nonsense syllables and his native Icelandic, but I’d prefer to think of it as the angelic dialect of the heart. That mysterious phrase, repeated many times, sounded at various times like longing, yearning, grief, sorrow, joy, the unanswerable questions you hurl at God when your best friend dies of cancer, the wordless cry of joy when you witness the birth of your child, a thousand other moments of spiritual combustibility and incandescence that cannot be contained by cognitive knowledge and understanding. If it sounds trippy, it is. The gauze curtain that the band sometimes played behind, accenting shimmering shadows and spectral shapes, and the late ‘60s Pink Floyd freakout lightshow, only added to that impression. But that’s the territory explored by this band. It has nothing to do with objective communication, and everything to do with hotwiring the soul to the ineffable and the sublime.
On a more mundane, terrestrial level, we heard about half of Takk, the band’s latest album, several songs from the unpronounceable ( ), and, best of all, several new songs not yet released. For those of you familiar with the albums, take everything you know and ratchet it up several levels. “Glossoli,” from Takk, which opened the show, went from a brooding but serene placid beauty to a crescendo so intense that my body was literally shaking from the sound. Chalk it up to the booming bass if it makes you feel more in control. String quartet Amina, who opened the show, played several songs with Sigur Ros, and the coda to the haunting “Gong” faded so slowly and beautifully that the rowdy, beerswilling audience (this being Cowtown, after all), numbering in the thousands, was utterly silent. The encore’s closing song, Untitled #8 from ( ) (wow, is that a weird phrase to write), was a triumph of thunderous percussion and rapturous beauty, the music building and building until you were convinced that it could not possibly achieve a greater crescendo, and then building some more.
Then the band left the stage with a wave, and Jonsi uttered his only spoken words of the night. “Takk,” he said, Icelandic for “Thanks.” I muttered it under my breath myself, but it seemed inadequate compensation for what had transpired. Just what is the proper expression of gratitude for a rock ‘n roll seraph?