The French Riveria is well known for beautiful, French countryside – a mix of rivers, rolling green hills and ocean-front views. So we decided to see them all, or at least all that we could given our agenda of getting to Arles, France in time to see Sigur Rós in concert at the Theater Antique.
Before Sigur Rós listed their headlining show in Arles as part of their current European tour, Stark and I knew absolutely nothing of Arles. We chose the location because of the intimate setting for Stark to see his favorite band for the first time. All of their other shows were at festivals and there comes a point, in my opinion, that you are too old for festivals unless you are still rocking the back stage pass. So that was my two cents of concert expertise and here we found ourselves, in Arles.
Arles was once part of the Roman Empire and as a result, has very Roman structures surrounding the area such as their amphitheater which, I believe I read was built in 500 A.D. This arena has been home to many bull fights and markets. At some point in the arena’s history, it became a fortress as the city was rebuilt within the walls of the arena. Additionally, Arles was home to Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh painted 150 of his 200+ known paintings while living in Arles. He went insane in Arles. He was repeatedly put in the Arles insane asylum – the very one where he cut off his ear. Although none of his paintings are housed in Arles today, you can grab a tour guide from the info desk at the train station and do a walking tour of where he stood as he painted some of his most famous paintings.
So we left Nice early in the morning once again and arrived in Arles. We settled at the Nord Pinus hotel – once known as a nice getaway for both Picasso and Hemingway, and we ate lunch next door at THE Van Gogh cafe. What I mean by THE Van Gogh Cafe is that the cafe was featured in Van Gogh’s painting, Cafe Terrace.
So as we caffeinated ourselves to survive the rest of the evening, I made sure to match the painting as best I could with some iPhoneography while Stark sat as a figure to this re-famous piece of art (see below).
We only had an hour or so to visit all of the Van Gogh areas for his famous paintings, so we chose settings that were closest to us. We still needed to eat something for the first time that day and wanted to make sure to get to the concert ahead of time. So we visited a handful of sights – mostly gardens and the Rhône river where he painted Starry Night over the Rhône, we went back to Cafe Van Gogh for a quick bite of wonderful food and then we revisited the Theatre Antique which we had scoped out earlier.
The line was already wrapped around one of Van Gogh’s most painted gardens by the time we reached Theater Antique, but we timed it well none the less. We got in, freshened up, and bought our merch just in time for Sigur Rós to grace the stage. Stark put me under immense pressure by leaving it up to me where we would be standing for the show. He kept saying that he would defer to my concert-going judgment, but we arrived within the theater after 99% of the seats were filled up.
My advice to Stark was that the only way to see your favorite band is as close and personal as possible, so we stood in about the fourth row of the GA section towards the side a bit. The start of the show was amazing, overwhelming and LOUD. The band insisted, purposefully, on turning the gain on the speaker system up to an almost crackling level. After a few songs, the decibel level was too much for even me and I like it as loud as humanly possible. So we went to what, to me, is the second best place to see a band and that’s from the very top where you can take in the fresh air and not only view the stage as a whole but watch the people and their ecstatic, emotional reactions to the music. But the center section was blocked off by a group of people who were somewhat misplaced in their seating and we were kept to the side once again, too far to see the finer details of the stage. But we rested here none the less until I elbowed Stark and exclaimed, “This is it. They’ll play a slower song and then go out with a bang, leave some distortion running, leave the stage and then come back for what’s generally a three song encore.”
Almost instantly after saying that, the stage lights went completely black before a spotlight took over Jonsi and he sang a song that was mostly him and his guitar.
“How did you do that?” Stark asked, in complete awe of the way I had sketched out this entire show before it even happened.
“It’s general knowledge – for every band and every type of band. You get used to it.” Even I was a little proud of myself for knowing how the first three songs would go, the middle, and the end. Even knowing what to expect, Sigur Rós did nothing to disappoint. The show was amazing and they managed the crescendos and diminuendos of the performance with perfection.
For the grand finale we ventured back to the very center of the “mosh pit” where people stood in reverent lines, unlike any other pit I had ever seen before. People gave each other space and weren’t put off by our need to step over them to get to the center. I thought to myself, “No wonder bands tour to Utah and say we are the rudest, most violent people they have ever witnessed at a show.” In many ways, we are. I’ve been shoved to my knees for trying to pass by people to get a better view; stepped on, sat on, spilled on, and nearly squished to death all in time to get swarmed by countless bodies for songs that aren’t even mosh-pit worthy songs. This has happened whether it be the show of a friendly folk artist or a some hardcore death metal show. I certainly liked the ability to stretch a bit and breathe among the French.
The end of the show was brilliant. The lights were blinding, the sound was sharp and the bass was grounding. The entire thing left you feeling like you had just levitated in a dream. As if that was not already unreal enough, Stark was able to get the drummer’s drumstick from the final song. Knowing what that meant to Stark and being in a vacation mindset, I first suggested that he should get it signed. After waiting until the entire theater was cleared out and already missing one, quick opportunity to go backstage, we were shuffled outside where we could stare at the band like beggers through the fence. Stark suggested we finish our Van Gogh tour and go back to the hotel so I could do my work, but I insisted. Even if we could get it signed at another show, another time or if I could work some Sony magic to have it signed by Jonsi on one of his solo tours, none of those times would be quite the same. So I ignored his request to move along and I sat, stern.
Stark thought we’d have a better chance if I worked my girlish magic, but I insisted that he had the real fan story. I didn’t even know anything about the band – names of members or of popular songs. That sort of thing shows. I told him how it is when you’re just a person with a nametag who gets to go backstage – everyone comes up to you, everyone wants to go backstage, and everyone wants something signed or a chance to see. Most of the time the people with the name tags don’t even have the authority to do anything themselves, their just help, but even if they can they have a 6th sense for fans that don’t really deserve it. So I gave Stark what advice I had for him – to tell them where he came from, how far he came, and to leave it at that.
After nearly two hours of waiting and watching other people finally give up and walk away, Stark was a big enough fan to know that the two violinists were walking up the street. They had gone to grab ice cream and were walking back to the concert venue. I urged him to go and he did. He made me proud. I sat to the side, without moving. This was Stark’s opportunity and it means much more for him to get it himself. Besides, the girls were happy to be approached and it’s not a good girlfriend’s place to destroy that kind of bubble for her boyfriend or for the band members. I know how those “backup” band members feel and I know how it feels to meet someone you musically appreciate with every bone of your body! Stark was able to tell them where he came from and the girls were dually impressed. Within a few moments they came back with his drum stick signed by all of the band members of Sigur Rós. It was then, and only then that we could go back to the hotel and look forward to yet another early morning on the train. Worth it.