Sigur Ros is Icelandic for ... [fill in the blank].
Majestic. Cinematic. Breathtaking. Bored to death.
I saw the latter in a tweet Thursday afternoon, before the show that night at Stage AE. Bored to Death is a possible reaction if you're not a fan of Icelandic post-rock with unintelligible lyrics.
There's no denying, though, that Sigur Ros made a gorgeous noise and a dazzling visual presentation on a beautiful September night in Pittsburgh in its first visit here in 10 years.
Although there are three core members remaining of the 19-year-old band from Reykjavik, they took the stage 11 members strong Thursday with three string players, three horn players, acoustic/electronic percussionist and synth player. The stage was adorned with state-of-the-art lighting, a giant video screen and, most intriguingly, dozens of light bulbs on lampstands, providing the feel of a festival or a construction site.
Sigur Ros got to work with "yfirboro," a melancholy track from the new album, "Kveikur," that creeped in like a fog over a lake covered with the fragile falsetto of frontman Jon "Jonsi" Birgisson that you have to hear to believe. That voice, which sounds amazing and otherworldly on record, is that much more powerful live.
Sigur Ros' live show is getting an electric jolt from "Kveikur," the most band's aggressively dissonant record, starting with the industrial thunder of "Brennisteinn," with distorted synth, Georg Holm's rumbling bass and the two-drum attack led by Orri Dyrason, who went at his kit with violent intensity. Among those layers of symphonic sound was Jonsi going at his electric guitar with a bow, his normal mode of musicianship.
Behind the band was a collection of mostly disturbing art films: bodies sinking lifelessly into water, red lava, alien masked creatures, etc.
For all the sound it generates, Sigur Ros is nonetheless a minimalist band that builds its mountains with precision, repetition and simple melodic structures. Pieces like the fiery "Hrafntinna" -- with Mr. Dyrason crashing the cymbals, including one in his lap -- were offset by the icy, gray "Vaka," which had him playing a spare, heartbreaking piano melody, and "Varuo," which transformed the female string section into a cathedral choir.
Within the first four or five songs, Sigur Ros had shown its hand, and the rest you could say was more of the same. With Jonsi singing in Icelandic and his invented language of "Hopelandic," he could be singing about his laundry and we wouldn't know it, so there's nothing to grab onto there, besides the emotion in his voice.
An hour in, you could see people looking at their phones, maybe texting about post-concert plans or checking on the Eagles-Chiefs game.
Jonsi didn't address the crowd for the first hour, then said meekly, "Thank you very much... for coming out to see us ... go Pirates."
The band had gone to the baseball game Wednesday night, and to the Warhol Museum during the day game Thursday, so it was tapped into the North Shore vibe. On Thursday night, climaxing with the 15-minute "Popplagid," it provided a stunning soundtrack to a picturesque evening.
Sigur Ros is Icelandic for "Victory Rose." Getting an international band of this prestige was a win for the fans and a win for the city.
Scott Mervis: email@example.com or 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg. First Published September 20, 2013 4:30 AM