Read our live breakdown of the Icelandic band's Madison Square Garden debut and the "Diplomatic Immunity" 10th anniversary show.
Nine blocks. That's the distance that separates the north side of Madison Square Garden and the entrance to B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York City; a 10-minute stroll for the able-bodied. On Monday night (Mar. 25), though, those nine blocks felt like a tundra -- a dark, freezing landscape that separated the swaying pixies of Iceland and the puffy-coated knuckleheads of Harlem.
Very few, if any, other people attended both Sigur Ros' long-overdue MSG debut (which started at 9:00 pm ET) and the Diplomats' "Diplomatic Immunity" 10-year anniversary concert (which, conveniently for the purposes of this piece, got underway at 12:15 am ET) on Monday night -- which makes a whole lot of sense. Who else would want to survive the perils of Midtown to soak in the ethereal bliss of the post-rock stars, then walk through the Manhattan mist, chill out for an hour, and discard that dreamy feeling of peace as Juelz Santana screams, "Animals, orangutans, hammers move, bangers bang!"? It's like ending a yoga class with an air horn being blown in your face for two hours.
But the Sigur Ros performance and Dipset anniversary show both offered nostalgic thrills, albeit in remarkably different packages. The Dipset show was a celebration of a too-short cultural movement, with Cam'ron ferociously saluting the loyal believers of a East Coast hip-hop credo that has been dormant for years. Sigur Ros' show wasn't tied to a specific occasion like Dipset's was (the rap troupe's instant classic "Diplomatic Immunity" album was released on Mar. 25, 2003), but in a lot of ways, the band's Madison Square Garden arrival as part of their current world tour was a toast to the longstanding diehards as well. Sigur Ros is an incredibly singular band that hasn't released an essential album in a decade (2005's "Takk…" and 2008's "Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust" both had moments of greatness but couldn't reach the heights of 2000's "Ágætis byrjun" and 2002's "()"), but the fact that they were playing MSG in 2013 after previously being relegated to the Madison Square Garden Theater in 2006 speaks to the sustained power of their live show more than their waning popularity or creative output. There were swaths of empty seats in the upper levels of Madison Square Garden on Monday night, but earlier reports of poor ticket sales were largely exaggerated. Thousands of people were willing to pay good money to see an 11-piece Icelandic band create sonic glaciers, for the first (and perhaps only) time at the home of the Knicks. Singer Jónsi Birgisson said six words in English the entire evening -- "Thank you so much for coming" -- but owned the place like he was Carmelo Anthony.
Each of Sigur Ros' songs was bestowed with a corresponding visual played upon a swooping screen behind the band, often depicting some wondrous natural effect like cells dissipating or grass growing in hyper-motion. The most memorable visual featured a tiny human figure standing alone on a snowy cliff, blinking a light at the audience… and then more human figures arriving on different cliffs and blinking their lights… and then the lights floating up to heaven! It was a dazzling, almost comically precious sequence, and Sigur Ros sold it, with Birgisson scraping a bow across his guitar and ululating each prolonged syllable like a man possessed. The "Takk…" highlight "Sæglópur" overwhelmed, and most of the poor souls attempting to dance simply stopped in their tracks during the song; later, the band showed muscle on the rapturous new single "Brennisteinn," from their forthcoming album "Kveikur." The band could have used an uptempo (uptempo for Sigur Ros, at least) song like "Gobbledigook" in the middle of the set, but for the most part, the crowd seemed largely content before provoking a pair of curtain calls. In the audience, there was swaying and hand-raising and even some amiable head-banging, but often just starry-eyed gazing at the inscrutable gorgeousness onstage.
Also beautiful: any marquee that reads "Dipset 10th Anniversary." Half an hour after the Sigur Ros show ended at Madison Square Garden, a long line of capos were sprawled across the 42nd Street sidewalk, waiting for a chance to yell along to their favorite Dipset joints and hoping that none of the members would take the night off. The Diplomats -- that hallowed, Harlem-based collective of Cam'ron, Juelz Santana, Jim Jones and Freekey Zekey -- were almost unparalleled when they were firing on all cylinders in the first half of the 2000s, and the 10th anniversary of their group LP "Diplomatic Immunity" was indeed a cause for celebration. Sure, the vibe was different than the Sigur Ros show -- for one, the security guard at the front of B.B. King's confiscated all of this writer's pens, and then demonstrated stabbing someone in the eye with a writing utensil when asked about his motive. And there was weed at both shows, but, not surprisingly, the herb was more pungent within the boisterous confines of the Dipset show, which also stunk of cheap cologne and expensive cologne from the new and old rap fiends in attendance. Compared to the echoing oval that Sigur Ros inhabited, B.B. King's was simply overstuffed; the Diplomats reunited at Hammerstein Ballroom in 2010, and that venue would have given the feverish crowd some much-needed room to breathe.
But the Dipset show contained even more fragile beauty than Sigur Ros' display, packaged in every too-loud beat drop and oddly moving a cappella verse from Santana. Dipset's history of in-fighting is now storied, and effectively derailed their chance at sustaining their early momentum -- but for one night, all drama and failed expectations were put on hold to toast the best part of what could have been. There were solo sets from Jones, Santana and Cam'ron, the latter of whom busted out "Purple Haze" fan favorites like "Get 'Em Girls" and "Killa Cam" in between blunt puffs. There was Freekey Zekey demanding a solo set, to a chorus of groans. There were cameos by Waka Flocka Flame and Lloyd Banks -- Waka fired a shot at former Brick Squad pal Gucci Mane in the two minutes he was on stage. There was DJ Funkmaster Flex demanding every hand in the crowd raised before dropping Nas' "Hate Me Now."
Most importantly, there were the "Diplomatic Immunity" hits: "Ground Zero," "Dipset Anthem," "Bout It Bout It… Part III," and, oh dear Lord, "I Really Mean It." It was all a glorious mess of a show that ended well after 2:00 am, and included over a dozen onlookers packing the stage while Cam, Juelz and Jim spit rhymes a few feet away from their subjects in the front row. Sigur Ros started their show at Madison Square Garden shrouded behind a giant curtain before it fell to their feet during a climactic moment in their second song, "Ny Batteri." That was really cool -- but nine blocks uptown, Dipset had nothing resembling a barrier between their starving fans, and that was even cooler.
- News