the last time sigur ros played new york, audience members kept fainting. by the end of the show, about ten fans had to be removed and revived. "that used to happen at a lot of our concerts," says sigur rós bassist georg holm with a shrug. "a lot of people have heard of our music but not actually heard it. so they smoke a lot of dope before the show. and then we're really quiet, so they're not stimulated and they pass out."
the album that induced all this swooning was the hypnotic 1999 disc agaetis byrjun, an icelandic blockbuster. after radiohead touted the disc's beauty and power, there was a bidding war among american labels, and mca signed the band. ironically, sigur rós fans will hear little of agaetis byrjun live; the quartet performs mostly new, unreleased material. "we're almost bored with the new songs, too," holm says. "as soon as we've finished recording, we'll stop playing them." (the next record is due in early 2002 -assuming they don't get so tired of the material that they start over.)
live, the band demonstrates its unusual instrumental techniques, holm sometimes whacks his bass strings with a drumstick, while singer jonsi birgisson often plays his guitar with a bow. their last tour included a string quartet and a bearded rimnamenn (a singer of medieval icelandic chants). they haven't decided on a final lineup for this american trip, although they're planning on fleshing out the band with an extra synth player.
sigur rós prefer to play in such non-traditional locations as churches, so the audience can stay still and seated. (presumably, this reduces the number of fainters.) "most of the times, rock venues are rocked out," says holm. "they have a nasty atmosphere. they smell, they stink." sigur ros also like to have extremely subtle lighting -sometimes just candles. they try to persuade clubs to close the bar, so as not to have delicate passages of music overwhelmed by the ringing of cash registers and clinking of glasses. "we're not trying to be annoying," holm says apologetically. "it makes for a better experience if you really listen."
unsurprisingly sigur rós are not a rowdy bunch. if you wander backstage, you're likely to find them stone- cold sober, hanging about, reading paul auster and douglas coupland. their main conversational topic on the road: complaining about buses. and hotels. at hotels in germany, they've been known to complain to the front desk because the television shows are all in german. "we get all excited going on tour," holm insists. "we enjoy it. well, we enjoy hating it."