It's Not The Same - By Volume

I knew we'd never write. somehow that seemed alright. This counts as calling three years out. The Wrens - 13 Months in 6 Minutes
Sigur Rós Manchester

It’s Not The Same

Who really wants to go to the after-party for their spiritual experience? In this feature on live shows, Gabriel has the audacity to complain about seeing Sigur Rós twice. Part of our We Really Fucking Like Sigur Rós collection. Author: on December 5, 2013
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I’ve seen a few bands live in my time. I’ve seen a few bands more than once, too, but haven’t most of us? When that new release hits the shelves aren’t we all frantically shovelling our way through tour dates? Will I have that time off? Will I get a ticket?! Our respective, uninspiring hometowns are hopefully going to be slapped awake from their snoring ignorances, graced by melodic and harmonic apparitions that Gods could only dream of. We’re not going to miss that. Not a chance. Moreover, no matter who you’re seeing, how lifeless the head-bopping gig-goers are or how expensive the beer is, we all secretly hope it’s gonna be one of those nights people talk about in 30 years’ time, so when some young kid – headphones round their neck and envy in their eyes – asks you: ‘where were you when Wheatus played the Aldershot Palace?”, you can say those magical three words; I was there. (Uh. Wheatus?) When a gig lingers in your memory for weeks to follow, you know your devotion has been rewarded; it was a wild night. Be it intimidating, serene, cathartic or even painful, the sheer magnitude of the emotions was almost too much, and you can smugly give yourself extra bonus points if you’ve pledged your allegiance virulently enough to have lost your voice. You’re a true fan. You might even sell one of your internal organs to fork out enough to see them next time around. But there’s an even higher – and simultaneously lower – echelon of fandom you can climb to. Or fall to. Whatever. You can wear it proudly or you can rip it straight off and hide it in your pocket, but if you go to the effort to see a band twice on the same tour, you’ve officially earned your Obsessive Badge.

Let’s be realistic. Seeing a band twice on the same tour is really not something that an almost-indifferent or ‘mildly’ infatuated fan does. It takes time and money and often a fair bit of travelling, but hey, theoretically it’s double the fun, and who wouldn’t go to that tiny bit of trouble for their absolute favourite band? Yet, when I booked my ticket to see Sigur Rós for the second time in the space of mere months, I felt strange more than excited. It’s not how I work. A gig frozen in time provides such a magical, nostalgically wistful collection of snapshots to flash back to, that putting myself through literally the same thing again didn’t sit right. It was like space and time had glitched into repeating themselves; I was waving one memory over the horizon behind me while welcoming pretty much the same one toward me from the other direction.

Before this unusual revelation occurred, it of course brought me great joy to think that from 2012 onwards, this ever-elusive band had treated us to two albums in 13 months and a short UK tour. Living in London, I was more than a little pissed off that I missed out on the Brixton dates, but I was damned if that was going to stop me, so – for the first and perhaps last time in my life – my girlfriend and I made a modern musical pilgrimage, buying cross-country train tickets and booking a cheap and not exactly cheerful Travelodge for a weekend in Manchester, just so I could set foot in the same arena as this mystical Icelandic trio, the band dearest to my heart. We queued for hours outside the O2 in early March temperatures. We valiantly defended our railing spots at the front despite the furore of other concert-goers. And we suffered through the god-awful support act just to ‘be there’. The more effort I put in, the more special it became, and so it was; the 90 minute set-list is one of the defining memories of my life. It was magnificent in almost every way. It was awe-inspiring when the curtain came crashing down, it was uplifting when the brass section filled the cavernous venue and it was moving to the point of tears when Jonsí’s whale-song-esque bowed guitar played out the dying embers of Saeglópur. They would later burst into two of my absolute favourite songs, which subsequently were not played on the Brixton set-list later that week. Everything came together. I had been rewarded for my efforts, the gig was over, Sigur Rós would head off to the US or Europe and that would be that for a long while. The window of opportunity opened for a fraction of a second and I took my chance to throw myself out of it. It was the most perfect form of satisfaction.

Skipping forward to August, Kveikur had been officially unleashed, and it had me dead. Whereas in Manchester we were left guessing, only briefly pummelled by its title track and “Brennisteinn”, by this point I had saturated every aspect of my sheer existence with the album. It had changed my life in a way very few albums have done, so when Sigur Rós suddenly performed an unexpectedly pantomime-like ‘Back by Popular Demand’ routine, it again had me scratching eyes and shoving people out of the way for the tour dates. “I want to see the rest of Kveikur live, God dammit!”, and then “Oh my God!”, and then, “Brighton! BRIGHTON! My home town! I no longer have to make an effort!”, as if that wasn’t part of what made the first time so special. It was at this point that it hit me. It wasn’t right; a sort of guilt and disappointment arose, a coincidental reflection of Sigur Rós’ recent, uncharacteristic tendency of giving us exactly what we want. So many tour dates, so many albums; I was cheapening it for myself. Though the setlist would most likely be very similar, the lighting would be the same and the atmosphere would be identical, my personal, instinctive emotions would not. I knew that not only would I be putting myself in a paradigm of constant comparison, but also potentially corrupting those existing memories that served me well. Actually, what the fuck am I even talking about? I need to chill out. This is Sigur Rós for Christ’s sake, and I’m seeing them again. I’ve surely got enough brain cells to separate two vastly different experiences, even if the focal point will be largely the same. Sure, no pilgrimage means it’s not quite as ‘special’ in that stupid illustrative sense I was referring to earlier, but I can definitely, at this point, stop worrying and if need be just act like this is a bonus round.

In the end, it was just that. Call it an anti-climax, but when the night arrived, that’s what it was; a bonus round. It was like an emotional trigger back to those happy moments in Manchester. No, it was no earth-shattering experience like before, and yes, it was pretty much the same from start to finish, and while I’m not suggesting the majority of the gig was boring, every little difference was appreciated. In the midst of this thumping, industrial-themed tour, they set a moment aside to play the lilting, dreamy “Agaetis Byrjun, a song which they confessed to not having performed “in many many years”. It was just for us; a little present for their fans in Brighton. It was at that moment in the auditorium that the perils of being in a band suddenly hit me like a freight train. I write this feature, vacuously complaining about how scared I was of my own futile emotional reactions, pointlessly complaining that it’s not the same, when in reality my inner qualms pale in comparison to those of a touring band. Sure, there’s money and all that comes with it, but for months on end you have to put up the same façade, execute the same damn show every night, and for what? It can’t just be the banknotes, and it surely isn’t; the spellbinding spectacle that is Sigur Rós live has been experienced by millions across the globe, yet to these millions, as with the billions who have been ‘enlightened’ by a phenomenal live experience, they’ve all got memories like mine. They’ve all got their own night in Manchester.

For a huge number of the people that crammed themselves into the Brighton Centre on the 20th November 2013, that was their moment. The twinkly lightbulbs on stage and the gargantuan LED screen above their heads was totally alien and enthralling. They could’ve been forced to travel all the way there. They could’ve queued for hours to stand at the front. They could’ve openly wept at points, we’ll never know. I couldn’t have hoped for all that again, but there is something magical about being aware you’re witnessing something that will be etched deep into thousands of memories that will last long into history. Decades. Generations. Who cares about saying “I was there” when all you need is to feel it, to know it yourself? Maybe you’re the kind of person, like me, that takes the live music experience far too seriously. Maybe you’ll see your favourite memory of a gig morph into a guilty pleasure in years to come. Even if you’re a bored friend who’s been dragged along to a concert you will most certainly not enjoy, it’s possible to look beyond it, to look at the people around you who are crippled with emotion, and hold your hands up to the live experience, the most powerful of all musical ordeals. It may not be for you, but what a transient, glorious and humbling adventure it is to someone. So, to all the bands that tour the world, day in, day out, until exhaustion finishes them off; no matter who you are, thank you.

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  • Brendan Carroll

    Hi Gabriel, I too saw them twice, firstly in Brixton, slightly spoiled by the guy next to us having three cameras and constantly taking photos and videos, and then in brighton. Like you I found the second gig a little anticlimactic as it seemed so identical. However we were seated with a different view and had no distractions, so it was subtly different. We had seen the band several years ago in the Heineken music hall in Amsterdam. That sticks in my mind as one of those emotional musical experiences that had tears running down my face during several songs. My conclusion is that the first time is always the best and most impacting. The rest will always be comparative. Just a thought! BC


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