Amiina - four ladies from Iceland producing damn fine fairytale music. Sometimes slightly scary music. Like the opener that began with a very low level rumble which was simultaneously belly shaking and unnerving. I'm pleased to say though that this unsettling noise was expertly offset by some deft and beautiful melodies. These multi-skilled, indeed multitasking instrumentalists applied laptop, violin, cello, xylophone, guitar, organ, synth and youthful vocals to amazing effect. The results vaguely suggested the bizarre offspring of Björk and Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Which, if like me, you like both of those then that's a child to be proud of (if occasionally perplexed by).
A characteristic of the Amiina family that especially appealed to me were the often simple, few note repetitive loop backing overlaid with several layers of slowly evolving and graceful strings. The amazingly pitch perfect bowed saw was incredible - raising what is normally little more than a novelty instrument to Theremin levels of otherworldly beauty. Having only recently released their debut EP, Amiina could just fill an all-to-brief 45 minute slot. The last song of which was a great if simple piece of kitsch techno pop based around a magnificently loud bleeping Casio VL-Tone. Amiina - I liked it so much I bought the EP during the interval. Yet further evidence of why you should try to turn up and listen to support acts you've never heard of.
Sigur Ros, counterculture favourites of trendy youths with untidy hairstyles that aren't really styles at all. Alt-indie bowed guitar soundscapes. Long songs, a made up language for lyrics and a aura of seriousness. Hell, there from Iceland, home to Björk and Ikea - how much more cool does it get? The illusory bubble bursts rather abruptly though when you think of the recent BBC TV advert that used one of their tracks.
From what I'd heard of Sigur Ros (including that BBC ad) I fully expected to enjoy this and was looking forward to adding another Icelandic act to the list of names I can say I like - just so I can demonstrate how worldly my musical tastes really are. Very disappointingly I cannot do this. This began well enough, with early tracks making me think that this is what prog-rock would have sounded like in the 70s if the 70s had been a cool decade (well, it wasn't in England, but I'm not sure about Iceland).
As this went on (progressed definitely isn't the word to use here) with singer Jónsi Thor Birgisson using bowed guitar on most tracks, their bombastic style quickly suggested to me that they were trying just too hard to be alternatively hip. Just because you play loudly and your drummer whacks his drums very hard and the piano player bangs his keys doesn't actually make the songs any better - just louder. It was vaguely reminiscent of God Speed You Black Emperor (who Sigur Ros actually supported some years back) only nowhere near as convincing. In the quieter moments there was a sensual quality that worked and the richness and timbre of some of the sounds prompted thoughts of Björk's more introvert expressions. I'd like to have heard more of this.
The fans were certainly fanatic (unexpectedly whooping a great deal) but five songs in I found my thoughts wandering (oddly) to holidays! I did have a niggling and persistent headache that I could not shake before the gig. This combined with the guy behind me who kept kicking the back of my seat every time he got excited and the irritating arse next to me who did not stop chewing gum throughout the entire evening - so loudly that I could hear it continuously. Three factors, I think, that would challenge even the most enthusiastic audience members. But, annoying though these things certainly were, I don't believe they made the difference. I found Birgisson's lead vocals irritatingly whiny. More Chris Martin than Alison Goldfrapp. The brass section, four piece strings (courtesy of support act Amiina) and other ideas indicate Sigur Ros know what elements work well together but they've some way to go yet in mastering their ideas and imagination.