I arrived at Risið to find a well-behaved crowd sitting in chairs listening intently to the evening’s first act, Soffía Björg. The band of five filled the venue with melancholy country, folk, blues. They played the kind of music you want to brood to – the “Oh Johnny…” tale. The two female singers played the part well – staring sadly at us, and their soft, mellow, heart-felt crooning fit nicely with the candlelit ambience. The swells of the slide guitar gave the depressed tunes a more haunting effect. The man sitting at the table next to me was feeling it ever so deeply, his eyes closed and head gently rocking back and forth, like he knew, old Johnny’s story. Their performance wasn’t sad though – they were tight and top-notch and the flannel-wearing audience dug it.
Next up, Ylja. Two pleasant girls carrying acoustic guitars came on stage. The small crowd, which was busy chatting with friends hushed up and turned their full attention to the second act of the evening. Ylja played soft acoustic tunes that probably fit well into the Icelandic folk tradition. And, they seemed to share the kind of ESP that only twins and special best friends have, exchanging knowing glances between their tight harmonies and articulate vocal lines. They really did harmonize nicely and their powerful voices really carried well into the room. Apparently they were allotted more time than they bargained for, so they did a few covers, including a nice Fleet Foxes song, before ending on one of their own again. They were also a hit. A more upbeat hit.
Elín Ey came up next. She wore black jeans, a red and black flannel and a black top hat. Around her neck she wore gold crosses, a precursor to what we were about to hear. Here are the highlights: “Forgive me Father, forgive me Lord,” “Forgive me for the troubles I have caused,” “We all feel the Devil, and still we sin,” “Think I’ll cry til the day I die,” and “Please shoot me so I never come back down.” Her words, not mine. It was almost gospel-like, blues. She strummed the guitar hard and sang loud. She played kind of angsty, but at the same time she exuded a calm confidence. For her last song, a special treat mobbed with purpose up to the otherwise empty area in front of the stage. It was a clearly inebriated middle-aged woman carrying a big beer in one hand, rocking to something on an altogether different wavelength, I believe. Someone video taping in the crowd, shifted their focus off stage and started recording her instead.
[At this point, Anna Andersen ventured to review the fun times at NASA. Young Eimear Fitzgerald took her place at Risið, and the rest of the review is hers]
Penny Police is a singer from Denmark with her three ‘police’ band on support. The quiet, inoffensive songstress often plays solo but told us she has beefed up her sound since the boys came on board. True to her word, she delivered a set that grew stronger as it progressed, punctuated by well-timed instrumentation and lyrics about love, the simple things in life and being satisfied. A shy presence on stage, Penny’s vocals run something similar to Emiliana Torrini’s. With sweet lyrics and nice melodies, it suited the venue and pleased the appreciative crowd, but it was kind of a case of her music doing exactly what it says on the tin.
The Finnish-American artist Vuk and her merry band of music makers got straight down to business with a tribal beats, guitars, winding electronics and dramatic organ strains. With lyrical subjects ranging from evil men to friendships in Somerset, there was something kinda wild in the way the band delivered their songs. Intense and focused but still open for meanderings and improvisation.
There’s something instant about Vuk’s presence on stage that makes you sit up and take notice. It easy to make comparisons, especially when it comes to strong female artists but there was something in Vuk’s vocals that reminded in equal parts of Tori Amos and PJ Harvey, with a little Juliette Lewis sass thrown in for good measure. Check this chick out, she a great new find.
There’s so much easy going guitar folk music doing the rounds in Iceland at the moment that artists really, really have to step up their game to stand out from the crowd. While Uni sang well and her band delivered what was asked of them, the performance didn’t create much in the way of dynamics, and the general audience response seemed was to treat it more as background music for their chats and various discussions than be grabbed by it. The band took it up a notch on their last track, which worked well, but came a little too late to have the desired impact.
By the time Hafdís Huld took to the stage Risið was beginning to feel more like an Airwaves venue and less like a pit stop along the way to buy cheap booze, down a shot and move on. There were more than twenty people there, for one, and secondly the sudden buzz created by Hafdís’ appearance on stage told me people had come with the specific intention of seeing this gig. Ok, and maybe to score some cheap booze too.
Many Icelander’s favourite popstress, Hafdís put in a great performance. Full of cheeky charm and actually pretty funny stories about the various random encounters that inspire her lyrics, she engaged the audience well with quirky songs from her new album ‘Synchronised Swimmers’.
Hafdís cute and fluffy, which that can often mean annoying, but her well observed lyrics keep her clear of candyfloss, and she won over the rather cool crowd at Risið with ease.
Ukulele in hand, Elíza Newman took to the stage. She plinky plonked her way through songs about, um…ukuleles, as well as your friendly neighbourhood volcano Eyjafjallajökull, all the while accompanied on piano by a friendly looking man with a mohawk.
While the performance was delivered well, and Elíza’s brand of music suited the venue, the songs themselves didn’t inspire a real engagement when it came to the subject matter. This kind of kooky Kimya Dawson style of songwriting can work well, but the whole package was a bit twee for me. But the audience was pleased with its slice of easy listening, and Eliza drew broad smiles and appreciative round of applause as she rounded off her set.