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Sigur Ros rocks the orchestra

The Icelandic quartet sets its austere stylings out to thaw at the Hollywood Bowl, with a bit of playful plucking.

October 07, 2005|Richard Cromelin | Times Staff Writer

One thing for sure, Sigur Ros is not Icelandic for "sugar rush." On the Scandinavian music scale, the Reykjavik quartet's epic soundscapes are 180 degrees from ABBA's pop desserts.

At the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday, Sigur Ros stayed rigorously true to its aesthetic, playing pieces that were austerely beautiful and deliberately paced. And although Jon Thor Birgisson sang extensively in his unique, keening register, it was in effect an instrumental experience, unless you speak one of the languages they employ -- Icelandic or their invented tongue Hopelandic.

Since emerging from its homeland in the late '90s, Sigur Ros has become the consensus band of choice for an audience attuned to these abstract, purely musical values -- this generation's counterpart to the progressive-rock followers of the 1970s. It's become a substantial cult, but it might have been overreaching to play the 17,000-plus capacity Bowl. It was a great setting, but it was less than half-full.

In any case, Sigur Ros delivered the goods and kept its standards high, finding numerous ways to mount meditative, explosive and soaring excursions.

Birgisson's bowed electric guitar anchored a sound built on the firm foundation of a basic bass-drums rhythm section and given a melodic shape by keyboardist Kjartan Sveinsson. Amina, a group of four women that opened the show with its own eclectic mix of folk-classical-electronic, pitched in on strings and other instruments.

After about an hour it seemed to have run its course and was starting to repeat itself, but then Sigur Ros suddenly cooked up a startling, distinctive work that suggested touches of Copland and Broadway. All texture and rhythm, with loud, syncopated plucking and a crazy crescendo, it sounded like two complex mechanisms meshing into a monumental force, and it showed that Sigur Ros isn't averse to a little fun after all.

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