I had the great fortune to have two headlining bands to look forward to tonight, and a few opening acts I’d never heard of and hoped might pleasantly surprise me. The night ended on a much higher note than I expected, and I’m glad this was the last show I saw at Airwaves.
Opening up was Gímaldin, featuring two guitarists – one of whom is the son of legendary troubadour Megas – and a drummer. Despite a lack of bass, it wasn’t missing in the sound, which blended elements of rockabilly, country and rock. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how I felt about this band. They played a tight show, and there wasn’t a single misstep, but the music didn’t really make me feel anything. It would sound great playing from a jukebox in an old diner, but their live act left me flat.
The Heavy Experience followed, an instrumental group led by saxophone, guitar and bass. This is a band that definitely lived up to their name – the plodding, earth-shaking march of a giant diesel-powered mastodon shook the club. The sax was capable of ascending the dirge like a victorious bird of prey, just as well as it filled in the spaces left by the reverberations. At times it could even be surprisingly pretty, capable of expanding the notes through the venue to the point of heat death, before crunching them back together with a thunderous boom.
This was followed by old school punks Saktmóðigur. Enhancing our experience of this band was a character I like to call Fat Bastard; a giant, dreadlocked kilted Icelander who had clearly gone beyond his recommended capacity for alcoholic beverages. At one point in Saktmóðigur’s pounding, metal-tinged hardcore punk, Fat Bastard flopped himself over the barrier in front of the stage in such a manner that his kilt flipped up, and everyone in the club was treated to more than they probably wanted to know about him. This hardly put a ripple in the band’s performance, though. This is what Utangarðsmenn would have sounded like if Bubbi had never picked up an acoustic guitar; and to be honest, it seemed that the singer and one of the guitarists could be Bubbi’s contemporaries. But even age, receding hair and beer bellies were not enough to destroy their grinding, furious rock and roll. Here’s hoping they keep right on recording from the nursing home.
Now we come to the first of the two bands I was looking forward to seeing, Q4U. Most people outside of Iceland who are familiar with this band probably know them from their performance of their song Creeps on the soundtrack to the movie Rokk í Reykjavík. The singer was done up goth horror-show: all black gauze, fishnets and heavy black eye make-up under her tangle of purple and black dreads. Their performance was unfortunately marred by sound problems – the guitar, keyboard and vocals were seldom all audible at the same time, and when they were together, one was usually much, much louder than the rest. The keyboard added some fine accents to the retro hard rock of their sound, but the keyboardist could have stood to use fewer pre-sets. Also unfortunate were the wooden, awkward “gothy” poses the singer struck, which might have been intended to look quirky or disturbed but were at times embarrassing. Really, her performance was at its best when she put everything into singing; that really brought the crowd to life.
Capping off the evening, and my final show at Airwaves, was Æla. This was a band I hadn’t seen since 2005, but I remember their manic punk stylings fondly. I was not to be disappointed. To my pleasant surprise, the singer-guitarist is still doing that thing where he stands on a chair while playing and singing, and is still not at all shy about playing amongst the crowd. In fact, while the rest of the band was on stage, he began by the door of Amsterdam, before playing and singing while walking on top of the bar, setting the hanging lights swinging, and then jumping into the crowd. This was the angular, jittery, no-bullshit punk I was used to from this band, and I was pleased to see they’d only gotten better with age. The singer engaged in some light banter with the audience, translating “Eru allir ekki í stuði?” as “Is everyone electric?”, and introducing one song as being about “the best blowjob I ever had”. His standard black jacket, white shirt and black bow tie were stripped a few songs in, to reveal him wearing Snow White’s dress underneath. At the same time, this never came across as hammy or self-indulgent; Æla wants you to have a good time, and they made sure everyone did, whether flogging out some thundering, crackling bass, or supporting clean arpeggios with drum beats that fell like cleavers. Even the one-note guitar solo of the encore, again played from on top of the bar, left the crowd demanding more.
It was a real pleasure to see this band as the final act of a festival I’ve come to expect to provide solid performances from known greats and mind-blowing performances from relative unknowns. I hadn’t reported on Airwaves since 2005, but after this year, I look forward to being able to take part in covering this festival again, year after year. Takk fyrir mig.