Venue was an excellent start into this year’s Airwaves as its first day’s programme offered – just like the festival does on a bigger scale – a wide variety of music from folk to post-punk, sweet pop and even a fierce metal band.
The evening was opened by Stafrænn Hákon, a band, who describe their sound as “power ambient”. This fits as far as the band actually proved a sense for dreamy guitar melodies and thick arrangements – no wonder, as their line-up includes three guitarists. They brought these layers to a live audience very well. The biggest point of critique so far would be the vocals: Somewhere between Chris Cornell and Chad Kroeger, the singing in its best moments adds a grungy note to the music, but in its worst just sounds cheesy and whiny.
In contrast to that, next up was singer Snorri Helgason, who played quite down to earth and bluesy folk, even country. This was exciting at first, but in time Snorri couldn’t keep up the interest lacking volume and shape in his voice. Also the songs seemed too simplistic in structure and arrangement. His own and his band’s very good instrumental craftsmanship couldn’t disguise that. A sad side note: he told us that he had found his guitar with a broken neck in its case shortly before the gig – what a tragedy for a musician!
When Prinspóló entered the stage, first thing you saw were paper crowns that this band – tonight consisting of Prinspóló himself (AKA Svavar of Skakkamanage) along with members of Reykjavík!, Sudden Weather Change and FM Belfast – collectively wore. What a lesson in understatement! The band really did everything – playing in a minimalist instrumental set-up, telling the funniest and longest stories exclusively in Icelandic (half of the audience stood clueless), avoiding a perfect sound – to hide from people that their songs are actually huge stadium rock hymns in disguise: so catchy, rich in details, elaborated and thrilling that it would drive many rock stars green with envy. Luckily the audience got the trick and proved themselves true connoisseurs of rock by sending off the band with a huge applause.
Miri were up next and they were a good surprise. I had remembered them as a pretty boring instrumental band, with strange happy melodies. They kept that concept, but added singing to their songs (maybe they have been doing this for a while – it has been two years since I saw them play), which fits in very well: the atonal, sometimes shouted vocals are a very good counterweight to the (still strange) melodic guitar riffing, making the result an interesting piece of post-punk with a whiff of jazz and many breaks. A ‘harder’ Talking Heads actually came to mind for a second.
One of the highlights of the evening for the audience was the appearance of scene veteran Benni Hemm Hemm backed by the youngsters of Retro Stefson. Although I personally think this band sounds like Retro Stefson on handbrake – Where is that cheerful verve of RS? “Schmackes” as we would say in Germany – people liked the show and thanked the band for their 45 minutes with a warm applause.
When Icelandic hardcore-metal offspring Swords Of Chaos entered the stage after them, the crowd had changed a little (more young men in the front) and most notably people left more room near the stage. This should become a real mosh-pit soon as the band performed live what they recently released as an album. The energy of the loud, fast and chaotic songs was beamed right into the first rows of the audience where people started pushing each other and getting up to some pretty wild dancing. During the concert I even saw a guy hanging from the ceiling, having jumped up there in a sudden energy overload and holding now on a bar that stuck from the ceiling. The great live show, the band’s unique complex hardcore sound leaning more to rock ‘n’ roll than to actual metal, and the excellent voice of singer Úlfur make Swords Of Chaos one of the most promising hardcore-metal bands in Iceland right now.
Sindri of Seabear had the last take this evening with his project Sin Fang. Their appearance after Swords Of Chaos brought relief to some in the audience who were up to relaxation in a concert more than to sports. The set was a flawless 45 minutes of sweet and earthy alternative pop and Sin Fang even could seduce the crowd to some serious hand-clapping action in the end.
The night at the Venue ended at about half past one with the group of heated and sweaty people swelling out of the narrow exits like hot lava. They had experienced a nice start for Airwaves in every way – people at Venue had been in a good mood all night and the club had been lively from people chatting, drinking and befriending one another between the sets. This is how it should go on.