All words: Solomon J. // All photos: Katherine Gaines
My first experience with acid was probably way back at Ozzfest ’99. As I stood tripping and watching Incubus – a god-awful band when sober – I was overcome with a change in mind, body, and soul. It was amazing. I mean, it must be special stuff if you can contemplate the totality of existence while “Pardon Me” and “The Warmth” drone in the background and kids in JNCOs thrash out next to you.
From that point on, I began to take LSD every day at school for about 100 days straight. I say this not to brag, but to convey the experience I had with it before Sunday night seeing Sigur Ros at the Patriot Center. Also, I’m a 37 year old dog walker living alone in Vienna, so kids, please don’t do acid 100 times when you’re in high school. There are repercussions.
With past doses, I had never had any visuals outside of small outlines on objects and minor trails in my prior trips. My max dose was 10 tabs of acid at once, but the psychotropic effects were nill compared to my hallucinatory experience with the Icelandic magic-makers. The document I’ve layed out before you highlights the limits of language when trying to record experience. Conveying a trip experience is tough, but nonetheless…
Me and my four other friends, a “guys night out” for the married among them, scuttled out of our car in the Patriot Center parking lot as light but steady sheet of snow fluttered down. As we power-walked to the venue, bitching about the cold, out of nowhere an under-dressed, bearded hippie with a gap between his teeth hopped in front of us and said in a very slow, dumb manner ,”You guys wanna buy some… L. S. D?” Everyone dodged this offputting man wearing a hoodie, tattered Umbro shorts, and tennis shoes (reminder: it was snowing). But a cursory glance into this dude’s unzipped fanny pack told me he was legit. I saw green, powder, blunt wraps, and other colorful pieces of paraphernalia. If he was a cop, he was selling the unhinged jamband junkie archetype well.
I palmed a $20 into his hand, and in return he gave me about a dime-sized oval of paper. Almost without hesitation I applied it to my tongue. You’re talking to a guy that’s had well over a year’s worth of trips under my belt. No big deal, I thought. I’ll have a light buzz and enjoy an already surreal sounding band.
I knew something was up when, idling at the concession stand, my friends drifted to their seats as I remained transfixed with the spacing between the letters of WARM PRETZEL $9.00 listed on the black and white block letter menu above the cash register. I shook to attention and walked meet my friends on the sold-out floor of the Patriot Center.
The lights dimmed and Sigur Ros came on stage, an 11-piece band fronted by 3 of the band’s original members, all shrouded by a massive cube made up of sheets onto which the band projected obscure patterns that took on, to me, an infinitesimal beauty of shape shifting, naturalist patterns. I was open mouth breathing and stunned at all the fractal patterns blooming before me. That was definitely acid I just took. Maybe something else too?
I looked away from stage and noticed every individual hair on the nape of my friend Barry’s neck. Each one had a rainbow gloss to them, like a puddle with car oil film on top. I felt a wave of anxiety come over me like I had never experienced, and quickly took a pull from my e-cigarette to calm myself . Every motion I made lifting my e-cig or pretzel to my face created e-cig and/or pretzel-shaped trail behind them that took a good 10-20 seconds to fade.
Sigur Ros began their set with a new track, “Yfirborð” and honestly I have trouble recounting to you what it sounded like. All I know is that when they began the next track, “Ný Batterí,” I started peaking for around 3-4 hours straight. The horns and bass in the Ágætis Byrjun classic vaulted me into a fantastical state of synesthesia and sensory illusion.
Their next four songs were “Untitled #1,” from ( ), a new track, “Hrafntinna,” Sæglópur,” from Takk…, and Fljótavík from Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust. For some reason during this time I thought that I should take off my shirt to “help my soul breathe.” Don’t ask a guy that was tripping what sort of sense that makes. My friend Barry turned around and stopped me. As Jonsi’s insane falsetto peaked with a cacophony of guitar and drums, the many freckles on Barry’s face were trembling and squirming off his face and onto his neck, like rainwater snaking off a windshield. He turned back around, weirded out by me just staring and smiling in his face.
As the next few songs (“E-bow,” “Varúð,” and the gorgeous companion pieces of “Hoppípolla,” and “Með Blóðnasir”) washed over me, I contemplated life, death, love, and the billion and one ideas that occupy the space between those concepts. This was heavenly music, and I didn’t need drugs to tell me that. But here I was, watching light waves I thought might be divine beings emanate from the band’s panoramic video screen and float over me like transparent, colorful wraiths. I tried to reach out and touch one of the beautiful spirits, and almost knocked someone’s iPhone out of their hand in the process.
Somewhere around the crescendo of “Olsen Olsen” the music was a collage of whirs and echoes lingering on individual notes gently rocking back and forth in my head space. Snatches of the flute refrain would catch in my ear replay in decreasing volume and increasing reverb like the sound was traveling away from me in a long tunnel.
At other times I was trembling at the beauty of what I heard and felt. Extremely deep strings underpininng Jonsi’s falsetto wails went from mournfully epic to jubilantly cinematic. Even though I have heard the songs many, many times over I was waiting to hear what fascinating turns such complex musicianship would take at a moment’s notice, like I was hearing them for the first time. At its best, this was the music that accomplished everything shoegazers like Spiritualized or My Bloody Valentine once promised but never delivered. This is truly engulfing music, with plenty of nuance to boot.
I tried taking my shirt off again but Barry, good friend that he is, stopped me and made me put on my jacket.
I forced myself to calm down. But that didn’t last long. The band began playing their new song “Brennisteinn,” and eventually Jonsi was back shredding on his six string with a violin bow, making reverb drenched whale-moan guitar sounds that plummeted to my very depths and sent my imagination spilling into an aqueous dreamscape. Glimmering green and blue hues from the video screen further snared me in a trance. My mind was racing at a million infinities a minute with kaleidoscopic day dreams and existential broodings. The sudden stratospheric crescendos of music smoothed out and rode subtle gradients that allowed for somber, elongated passages of drones and minimal instrumental interplay. I felt like I was caught in a beautiful psychedelic storm, prodigiously orchestrated by Sigur Ros.
Are they Nordic gods bearing musical bliss? What’s Thor like? How did I manage to see the entire universe in a single light bulb on the venue’s overhead scaffolding?
The 11-piece band left the stage after this song and I became disenchanted with my surroundings. Crowd chatter started up again, tiny cubes of light from smart phones started flickering all over the arena. I stood in place, reminding myself not to open-mouth breathe, sort of in this anxiety-buzz deadzone of an unstimulated trip.
Thankfully Jonsi sprinted back on stage, feather sleeve fringe, Euro-trash mullet and all. The band encore’d with “untitled #8” from ( ), an 11 minute track extended to almost 15 minutes live. Or maybe my sense of time was altered by the acid. It seemed like a glorious eternity.
The band’s arrangements may deploy a familiar combination of bass, drums, piano, vocals, lots of strings, and some horns. How incredible then that so much color bursts from the music at the most dramatic of musical turns. Despite opening with songs that sounded like a happy walk through a snow bank, the band’s set leapt from sunlit spring mornings to winter trudges across foggy moors, making the listening experience emotionally varied, and more tactile than illusory.
As I walked out of the Patriot Center, I didn’t see our hippie dealer. I was still cresting on audio-visual tracers, completely inspired, and trying to retain these particularly fragile thoughts that seemed to be on the brink of melting away due to the trip. Later, back at home, I wrote all of this down on the way home in a notebook, along with some other insanely stupid platitudes you think are significant when you’re high. I also stared at the snow for a good 40 minutes because I was still seeing patterns and shapes in everything.
In conclusion, this was an incredible concert. I tripped my balls off, but I don’t think you needed drugs at all to feel like you’re tripping when you’re listening to Sigur Ros.