For the majority of the noughties, Sigur Ros transcended being Iceland’s most successful export to characterising everything that was best about the country. The band did that rare, seemingly impossibly feat of not only recalling Iceland’s wild, rugged and beautiful landscapes, but of providing a direct musical portal to the mountains and glaciers they so clearly love. It was only natural and fair then that ‘Hoppipolla’ would come to soundtrack a thousand BBC wildlife documentaries (the Beeb does nothing better!), and propel the band into mainstream success. But everything changed in 2008 when Iceland’s financial system imploded in on itself – buoyed up as it was by debts the country and its people could never expect to pay off. Instead of capitulating to politicians, as we have done across the rest of Europe, the people rose up against the government and rewrote the constitution. Bankers were thrown into gaol, and Iceland became characterised not by its landscapes but the grit and determination of its people. When the British economy stands on the verge of a triple-dip recession, Iceland can proudly say that its economy grew by 2.8% in 2012. The result of all this for Sigur Ros is that, from an external perspective, they suddenly seem out of step with the country they have come to define, and around 2009, they slipped from my consciousness.

It was, then, something of a bolt from the blue when the writer expected to review Sigur Ros cancelled, and I find myself heading down to the Apollo – via Big Hands for 3 tequilas and 2 pints of Krombacher (the ultimate pre-gig pick me up) – to be reunited with an act that has until recently been with me throughout all of my adult life. I suppose I should have expected more from a band that trades majorly on the word emotive, but I was not prepared for the emotional onslaught that follows. In part separated from the audience by a translucent curtain, the band and supporting orchestra appear as spectres and ghostly shades. This might sound pretentious, especially from a group that has a made up language called Hopelandish (nauseating I know), but ultimately it only imbues their music with even greater majesty. There are, I’m ashamed to say, a few moments when the music brings me close to tears – I’ve been to many gigs and only Elbow’s ‘Lippy Kids’ at Manchester Cathedral a year or so back can boast a similar affect.

But honestly, what a phenomenal show! There are a few newer tracks that I don’t recognise, but they typically move at a glacial speed towards a transcentally beautiful peak, and slowly withdraw back into the sounds of vast empty spaces. It’s a trick that has slowly alienated critics of late, but one that also continues to pay dividends live. Sigur Ros might be a one trick pony, but what a trick and what a pony! Untitled ‘Track 1’ from the album (), recorded up a mountain is every bit as desolate as that sounds – you can almost here the snow falling. It’s also one of the moments that nearly wrenches the tears from my eyes. The tracks from Takk (Thank You in Icelandic) are far more uplifting. You all know ‘Hoppipolla’ – whether you think you do or do not – and despite being played roughly 20 times a day on the BBC there’s still life in the old dog yet. ‘Glosoli’ and ‘Saeglopur’ blast forward with all the power of a giant glacier tumbling into the sea – when they really want to Sigur Ros can definitely rock! The encore starts with ‘Svefn-G-Englar’, arguably their most powerful song. There’s a moment, 1:22 in, when lead singer Jonsi plays a heavily distorted guitar with a violin bow, which, on a good sound system, is the closest musical approximation of a 10 magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale. I still maintain that this is one of the greatest, if brief, bits of guitar playing of all time – though I’m not too arrogant to not admit that it’s all personal opinion. After one last track that builds slowly to a crashing crescendo, we leave and I find my faith in a band that I felt was no longer relevant happily restored.

It’s back to Big Hands for another 3 or 4 (or 5!) tequilas and pints of Krombachers (honestly I’m not sponsored by them but if they do want to send some freebies my way I’d happily accept them). Two days later I’m still hungover, I’m nursing cuts and bruises from when I fell walking home, but these will all recede. That sense of euphoria from witnessing such an amazing show will, however, stay with me for a very long time. Iceland’s back on its feet and Sigur Ros still soundtrack the country’s unofficial national anthem.

Chris Gilliver

I started out writing for the Manchester Evening News as a freelance journalist back in 2008. The idea that I would be given free access to music and gigs seemed somehow miraculous to me, and I proceeded to take full advantage of the situation. When the M.E.N. decided to constrict its coverage to only the very biggest bands, Simon Poole approached me with a plan to make sure that all the very talented musicians of this world that pass through and/or live in Manchester would not go unnoticed. As the New Releases editor here at Silent Radio Towers, it remains my proud duty to cast a critical eye over the music and reviews that come my way in a manner that is both supportive and fair. Above all, I strive to write as entertainingly possible. Favourite musicians include the Pixies, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Mercury Rev, Os Mutantes, The Knife, Beach House etc etc. I'm a firm believer that all genres (except nu-metal) contain music of great quality...