The weekend was marked by a black cloud by those unable to attend this year’s edition of Sasquatch Music Festival south of the border. As one of those unable to attend, I was overcome with a feeling of loss as a large portion of my friends took off on Thursday morning for five days of camping in a beautiful wasteland. The ultimate combination of alcohol, drugs, and mesmerizing scenery. Oh, well.
I took solace from the fact that, since Sasquatch was within touring distance of Vancouver, a large cross-section of the lineup would be performing in town during the same weekend. A small speck of hope remained that I would be able to witness one of the bands on my A-list; a foreign band that doesn’t stop in the Northwest very often, perhaps? I crossed my fingers and prayed to the music gods. They answered with two tickets to Sigur Rós at Deer Lake Park. However, the weather gods didn’t answer my prayers. It rained the whole time.
No bus wanders inside the park grounds, nor is there any space to park a car. This resulted in a large mass of Gore-Tex-clad fans wandering towards the main gate of the venue with umbrellas in hand. The rain wasn’t falling at this point, but it had been all day, and the sky looked a threatening shade of grey. The combination of weather, weather-appropriate clothing (toques, umbrellas, wool sweaters, waterproof bags), and the calm demeanour of the crowd replicated my own image of Iceland. Except, in my version of Iceland, the beer doesn’t cost $7.
We entered the venue as soon as Missouri-born Julianna Barwick began her set. At first, standing on top of the mushy grass hill, it seemed there wasn’t anyone on stage. With a black outfit from head to toe against a black backdrop, she looked like a floating head from the right distance. Once closer, I realized that was nonsense. Alone on stage, she managed to create captivating music using only the power of her voice, a loop station, and the odd percussive instrument. An impressive creation of layer upon layer of vocal harmonies that created a dream-like feeling in the crowd. She seems quiet and shy, but that adds to her charm. Miss Barwick was a great choice to open the night, given her similar experimental flavour to the night’s main attraction – Sigur Rós.
After nearly an hour after Barwick exited the stage the Icelandic post-rock pioneers entered to a throng of claps and giddy fans. From start to finish, I was blown away by Jónsi Birgisson’s crisp falsetto. His vocal control was the most impressive. For example, holding an end note for so long the crowd did two clap cycles during the same breath. That moment when everyone thinks the performer is finished, so they clap, but then realize it’s still going, so they stop. Then start again when the finish arrives. I clapped three times.
Sigur Rós is known for their unconventional choice of instruments: a guitar played with a bow, some weird hanging cymbals that clang together, and a giant xylophone. Along with great musicality, this eccentricity is what makes this band so appealing to their fans; a quality lacking in many mainstream artists today – they are unquestionably unique. Even the visual aspect was like nothing I’ve seen before. A stage peppered with light bulbs attached to poles coming from the stage at differing heights. The bulbs would light up at accented moments in songs (best during “Svefn-g-englar”) to create a heavenly glow coming from the bottom of the stage. Everything tied together so tight and neat. The best part was they played almost continuously for two full hours.
Along with the upside-down light bulb poles, there were more visual treats. Raised behind the band, covering the length of the stage, was a large screen displaying a variety of visually stimulating artwork. The display matched the mood of the music perfectly; the shapes shifted with the music and included both abstract and realist subjects. It would have been the perfect companion on a psychedelic trip (said the guy on shrooms a few rows behind).
Being an all ages show, the rare tour stop to Vancouver was met by fans young and old. Wool sweaters, smiles, and beards were in abundance. Also, rain jackets, expensive beers, and people sitting on tarps. Yet, even though it was raining, the crowd didn’t seem to be upset at all. In fact, it almost created a greater sense of oneness between the performers and the audience. They were glad we came in the rain, and were happy to be there. Honestly, I would have watched them during a snow, hail, and thunderstorm.