Whatever quarrels surrounding the Harpa concert hall and its construction, you have to admit that it is a huge, polished piece of architecture that is made to be home of music. This is why it became Airwaves’ new ‘large’ venue, taking over from the Reykjavík Art Museum.
This in mind, I was amused to learn that Norðurljós hall, where I went the my first Airwaves evening, is one Harpa’s smallest concert hall. Harpa as an Airwaves venue has its positives and negative, examples of which were quite obvious tonight. A good thing: outstanding sound quality. I seldom have heard such a variety of artists from different genres play in one place, with all of them sounding loud, yet crystal clear. The drum sound was especially impressive, bringing a great presence and drive without interfering with the other instruments or the vocals.
However, Harpa is a huge building, and, on the Airwaves scale, so is Norðurljós. The experience left one missing the club atmosphere other venues provide, it at times seemed kind of sterile and clinical. This particular evening it seemed to be the wrong venue for most of the artists performing. Even worse was the fact that the audience was quite scarce this evening, so most of the artists played in front of a less than half-full hall.
Elín Ey had pulled the short straw of the line-up; there were about twenty people around, when she started her set. The room filled up a little eventually, and people showed their appreciation. However; her blues/folk would have been set way placed in a café or club than this stadium-like atmosphere. Thumbs up for the cover of Elliott Smith’s Between The Bars: good choice and a great performance.
Friðrik Dór was up next up. He fortunately brought over a respectable crowd of younger fans, so the room was filled one-third when he started playing. The mood was rising, and people actually started dancing to his pumping electronic beats and R&B style vocals. His chosen style places rather high requirements of him in light of his American idols. And while he did not reach the superstars’ plateau, he was rather likeable. If I had to book an act for your teenager’s school party for tomorrow, I would totally call Friðrik Dór! And the day after, maybe the kid would have forgotten about the music – the same way as he or she forgets who he made out with – but hey: it was fun!
With Ourlives the setting changed again, towards settled college emo-rock somewhere in the Nexus between Jimmy Eat World and Snow Patrol. Actually I am a big Jimmy Eat World fan, and so I liked parts of Ourlives’ set, even though the band exaggerated Jimmy EW’s cheesiness a tad and lost their verve somewhere in the middle. A friend of mine remarked that this kind of music always reminded her of American hospital dramas. I’d like to agree with her: You like the Scrubs opening theme well enough for the first time you hear it, maybe even for two or three times after. But imagine if you had to listen to it for an hour!
Benjamin Francis Leftwich was cancelled for some reason, so the thirty minutes following Ourlives’ appearance were a little confusing. Eventually, an hour’s break was announced, with Dikta keeping their normal stage time. When I returned after half an hour, Dikta had surprisingly started their first track – half an hour earlier than the rescheduling had indicated. It took around fifteen minutes for a lot of the crowd – which had dispersed around Harpa by then – to realise that the band had started playing.
Despite this, Dikta’s set was the evening’s highlight. The room filled pretty fast, and the band slowly conjured a real kickass-rock show atmosphere in Norðurljós. The crowd sat through half the show, but what a sight it was when everyone suddenly stood up, pressing towards the stage and singing the lyrics to Thank You. Engaging and humourous stage banter also added a pleasant quality to their show.
Pétur Ben & Eberg had the thankless task of being last on stage, and as it often happens the tension had somehow left the room when they came on. The crowd was slowly evacuating the premises, and the whole evening seemed to fizzle away, with the audience growing more and more tired. The band’s soundtrack to this atmosphere was okay. But no more than that. The problem wasn’t only their placement on the bill, they also seemed lacking in ideas and enthusiasm that would have fed energy to the crowd and lifted the atmosphere.
All in all, there were two big factors that served to make this evening worse than it could have been. Firstly the venue was too large for the bands. Secondly, the somehow random compilation of artists. I was definitely missing a red thread, and therefore that theatrical element that could have carried the artists along.
Viewed that way, the night amounted to five bands in a random order, in a far too big location.