I arrived at Jodrell bank with no real idea of what to expect. I was in the queue to see one of the most notoriously alien bands of recent times, performing in front of the third largest steerable radio telescope in the world – not your average gig. It took a short while to get used to the surroundings, the telescope looming out of the background of a setting comprising mostly fields. After a short whip around the observatory, it was time to hear the music, and I sat on my jacket next to my dad, pint in hand, awaiting with intrepidation the performance of support band Daughter [5/10].
Rather disappointingly however, Daughter’s performance turned out to be far from what I had been expecting of a band growing fast in stature in the UK. Their perfromance was sound musically, but the entire display lacked any form of power or presence. Perhps it was the setting. Perhaps Daughter’s music is more suited to the guildhalls or the recording studio, but somehow the band’s performance simply did not stand out in the open air. This would have been fine, were it not for frontwoman Elena Tondra’s cringeworthy music faux pas of timidly bleating an apology to the crowd for the band’s poor performance, which firstly was not at all bad, certainly nowhere near enough to warrant an apology, and resulted in a palpable taste of cringe in the air felt by every member of the audience.
I looked to the overcast skies in hope that second support act Polica [8/10] would improve upon their predecessor’s performance, and gratefully was not disappointed. The Minnesota based band’s blend of soft rock and synth pop, reminiscent of a certain lady hailing from the same nation as the headline act captivated the crowd and warmed them greatly as the heavens began to open. As Polica’s performance came to an end the sun appeared from behind the clouds for one final time before beginning its descent beyond the horizon, and everyone, from the young denim clad hipsters to the Scandinavian jumper wearing, facial hair sporting Sigur Ros super-fans, knew that the time was fast approaching.
As the evening was finally plunged into darkness, the crowd was impressed one final time by a live video link to Jodrell bank colleagues at the South African Astronomical Observatory in Cape Town, before finally it was time for Sigur Rós [9/10] to grace the stage. The performance began, and we could do nothing but look on in awe as the observatory began to rotate gracefully around 180 degrees to a crescendo of sounds recorded directly from outer space and arranged by the band especially for Jodrell bank. Finally, the enormous radar dish came to rest, staring directly down onto the crowd – enter the band. The next two hours proved to be one of the most spectacularly sensual experiences I have ever witnessed. As the band played song after song from latest albums Valtari and Kveikur projectors visualised various video clips and images onto the gargantuan radar dish.
By the end of the first hour, the crowd had really begun to get lost in the stunning blend of music, lights and pictures, and as the second half of the performance began with the familiar sounds of the piano ringing out the opening notes to Hoppípolla, the crowd became truly engulfed in the atmosphere the band were forging. Frontman Jonsi Birgisson looked nothing short of mythical as he drew his bow across his guitar to give his notes that mystical, oh-so Sigur Rós sound – his facial features engulfed by the darkness. As the end of the theatrics drew to a close, the radar dish began to return to its original position and then slowly, one by one, the band members began to disappear, leaving their instruments unmanned and ringing into the darkness until silence. Fans hoping for an encore were given a fair compromise, as the band returned to the stage one final time, but only to bow in unison, an elegant end to a truly elegant performance. I would be surprised to find one member of the audience that night that went home unsatisfied. It truly was one of the greatest musical performances I have ever witnessed.