(Photo: Hollister Dixon)

It has been 15 years since Sigur Rós stunned the world with its sophomore album Ágætis byrjun, and, in many ways, its remaining members are finally taking stock of that success. On their latest tour—their first since 2013—the men of Sigur Rós have promised a “stripped down” approach that eschews past excesses such as orchestral and string backings, instead featuring only the trio of vocalist/guitarist Jónsi Birgisson, bassist Georg Hólm and drummer Orri Páll Dýrason. After years of touring and seven studio albums, the band has finally earned the ability to connote their shows with a flourish (“An Evening with Sigur Rós”). No openers, two distinct sets with a 20-minute intermission in between.

In many ways it is amazing that Sigur Rós has such a large following still. Their music, though beautiful, is challenging, not unlike the work of Radiohead in the early ‘00s. The songs are long and the lyrics indiscernible. And although the band has steadily produced albums, they peaked in the early/mid ‘00s with ( ) and Takk…. Sure, they have put out some excellent songs since then, but when you arrive with your sound nearly fully formed, it is difficult to go new places with your music.

Although the band’s 16 song set at Portland’s Keller Auditorium did feature a few new songs, it leaned heavily on music from 2005 and before. If Sigur Rós ever released a greatest hits albums, this set would look like its tracklist. As far as newer material, the band wisely cherry-picked the best stuff from its more recent offerings. We got a stirring version of “Festival” from Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust where Birgisson held a note in the song’s somber opening for what felt like forever before the song collapsed into a triumphant crescendo, as well as the thundering title track from Kveikur. But little else from these the later records. Valtari was ignored.

For a “stripped down” performance, this Sigur Rós tour features quite an elaborate light show. The band has always looked for innovative ways to frame their music live. The first time I saw them, just after 9/11 in New York, a roaming beam of light, like the call of a lighthouse, floated across the audience. When touring on Takk…, a translucent curtain shrouded the band for the best portion of the concert. Here, a movable metal set, along with crazy lights and video complemented the band, creating a complete multi-media experience. So much for stripped down. Sometimes I worry that bands with challenging music underestimate their audiences and feel the need to substitute a light show where quieter spaces to reflect should exist. Here, it worked, mainly because of the majesty of the design.

Backstory and staging choices aside, this could have been the best possible setlist Sigur Rós has compiled for longtime fans, especially those who love ( ). I believe time will reveal that ( ) is the better record, but the selections from Ágætis byrjun (“Ný Batterí” and “Starálfur”) fit in with the darker tone of the set. The songs from Takk… (“Glósóli” and “Sæglópur”) added some beauteous uplift to the evening. Yet, the decision to end with the violent “Popplagið,” which saw Birgisson move towards the lip of the stage, mouth agape in open provocation of the crowd, felt like an appropriate tone for the evening. Yes, the band often ends shows with this stunner, but it felt like the perfect summation of not only the evening, but Sigur Rós’ long career: that through pain you reach a summit of absolute beauty, though not in the traditional sense.

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