On a good night, Somerset House is the best venue in London, but only when the music is equal to the majesty of the surroundings. Enter Iceland's Sigur Ros, whose elemental compositions could find few more apt settings than an 18th-century courtyard beneath a perfect summer's night sky. Half the spectators sit cross-legged, gazing at the intersecting vapour trails above, or letting the music paint pictures on their mental canvases.
Unless their mental canvases are in desperate need of restoration, it's unlikely that those pictures involve four shy, skinny men in T-shirts.
Sigur Ros's nondescript appearance is possibly a deliberate move by a band obsessed with letting the music speak for itself. To this end, the projections flanking the stage are indistinct: two blurred figures dancing, a child running in a heat haze. The lyrics are unfathomable, performed in an invented language called Hopelandish and delivered by singer Jonsi Birgisson in a spine-tingling, androgynous wail that's more alien than human (small wonder that Thom Yorke and Chris Martin are such ardent admirers). Even when they are pretentious - the title of their last album was just an empty pair of parentheses - it is in a uniquely egoless way.
Played at home, Sigur Ros's subtle, intricate arrangements can too easily fade into the background; here they demand, and repay, the listener's attention. Their songs ebb and flow with exquisite precision. At times, they have a mournful, weightless ambience, like music for an astronaut's funeral; at others, they build to a perfect storm of psychedelic noise. Some of the new songs, constructed around a string quartet, are so beautiful they snatch the air from your lungs.
During one spellbinding track, the walls glow pink and orange with the sunset, the projection screens blaze with stars of light, and an awed hush envelops the whole crowd. On a good night Somerset House is the best venue in London. This is a very good night indeed.