Innipúkinn is an annual music festival for the colourful characters who decide, for some odd reason, to stay in the capital while the rest of the nation scatters to various places around the country. This year the biggest foreign bands were Television and Throwing Muses, both bands having been big a number of years ago; last year the festival boasted Jonathan Richman, Cat Power, Blonde Redhead and The Raveonettes. The slightly less impressive foreign line-up this year had an obvious effect on attendance.
Before the festival started at NASA on Friday, a few bands played a pre-gig at 12 Tónar record store. Three of them would later perform at Innipúkinn: The Foghorns, Eberg and Jomi Massage. I came too late for The Foghorns, who played quickly and ran for an early start time at Innipúkinn. Jomi Massage had come all the way from a land far away, a magical land, namely Denmark. This tough rock chick was much like the Viking version of Skunk Anansie’s Skin, with her rough edges and often heart aching melodies. Her band covered Björk’s Unravel, making the song even sadder than the original. It’s always nice hearing Björk covers well done, but this was only average and forgettable.
Eberg performs playful and experimental pop music written by Einar Tönsberg. He’s a solo artist, but this weekend he brought a drummer with him and the charming and talented cellist and vocalist, Bird. When they teamed up live it surpassed the studio recordings of his songs. They looked cute playing, and to maximise the cuteness they even covered a more poppy version of the old 1806 hit Twinkle Twinkle. Eberg was pleasing for the eye and ear.
Opening Innipúkinn at six to a near empty house was Dr. Gunni’s job. There hasn’t been a single Innipúkinn without them so it was only suitable that they started it all. Their gig went by quicker than you could say “!!!”
The same went for Benny Crespo’s Gang, a good live band, and The Foghorns, a blues band with entertaining lyrics. Despite the time being too short, it didn’t really matter since the crowd was still somewhat limited.
The next band, Ég, were like the Red Hot Chili Peppers of Iceland. They’re probably most known for their hit Eiður Smári Guðjohnsen, about the local hero footballer. Ég are more upbeat and danceable live than in the album versions, which is a good quality because they can surely make the crowd go wild. They concluded with The Who’s My Generation, or, as more Icelanders seem to know it, “the second song Magni performed on Rock Star: Supernova.”
Next, Jan Mayen returned after having released their debut album in 2004 (it now costs 700 ISK at Skífan) with a handful of new material. They played a bit of it, and it sounded like they will have a pretty tight album on their hands this year.
Jomi Massage did well at Innipúkinn as at the pre-gig in 12 Tónar. Their second to last song was so intense that before starting the last one the singer had to lie down onstage to catch her breath.
I was excited to see the infamous Jakobínarína, who won Músíktilraunir 2005 (Battle of the Bands), onstage again. They always get strong reviews – love or hate affairs – but recently, Iceland has been in love with them. Their reviews have been positive, a bit too positive in my opinion. Still, I hoped I would finally discover Jakobínarína’s greatness. The Jakobínarína show was delayed a bit after one of their guitars broke and they needed a new one hastily. That problem and a few technical difficulties led to Jakobínarína’s time getting cut in half, leaving them room for four songs, and leaving me still confused over their supposed greatness.
Television was definitely the most anticipated band of the festival. These New York rockers were probably the main reason for most people being there that night. They were one of the biggest critical successes in the 70s, most famous for their excellent album Marquee Moon. From the start, technical problems plagued them. The feedback made singer, Tom Verlaine, a bit annoyed. His microphone, when it wasn’t screeching, was barely audible. Technical problems were not the main concern of the evening, though. The main issue was Television’s dreadful performance.
It seemed like they were relying on the strength of the songs and not paying attention to the otherwise dull performance. The only audience enjoying the show were the few middle-aged male groupies standing at the front waiting to hear the songs they had heard when they were decades younger. These audience members were responsible for asking Television for an encore, the shortest and worst encore in Icelandic history. Sadly, Television sound much better on record than live. And their CD is more exciting to watch than they are.
The next band, Jeff Who?, did not suffer from this problem. Jeff Who? were a great close to the Friday night set, being the best of the evening and a big relief after the horror that was Television’s performance. They bombarded the crowd with new songs. The new material was impressive, but with Jeff Who? being more of a live band the record might not reflect this. Highlights were a great cover of ELO’s Don’t Bring Me Down and their latest single, The Golden Age, which has been playing non-stop at near every single radio station in Iceland in recent weeks.
The Saturday line-up was average. Weapons opened the night with their White Stripes-like music. In fact, the singer looks like Jack White without the artistic red, white and black clothing. They were followed by Morðingjarnir, who are at the top of the Icelandic punk scene today. An elderly woman remarked, “That man can’t last for long, the way he’s singing.” Later, the same woman shouted at them, “Please have the courtesy to introduce (their songs) before playing them” and the husky singer wearing a shirt saying “feitur” (fat) did as she requested.
I had looked forward to seeing Hermigervill, an electronic musician, for a while now, being a complete sucker for good electronic melodies. The set started well but as it went on the songs somehow got cheesy and tedious. Donna Mess followed, and she was an interesting character. She entered the stage wearing a full bodysuit, with holes for her mouth and eyes. Singing uncomfortable and psychedelic songs with lyrics about her double dildo, she ended the show with topless girls dancing in flashing lights and left many a person’s mouth agape.
Solex, a Dutch solo artist who samples old standards while singing Cyndi Lauper-ish vocals over the top started well but as the show went on their poppy and experimental songs got stretched and hardly memorable.
Eberg, who had been extremely enjoyable at the pre-gig on Friday, was a huge letdown for those who had been there, because the set list and performance was identical to the one the day before. There is nothing more annoying than a band with no versatility between live gigs whatsoever.
It was obvious as soon as they hit the stage that Boston rockers Throwing Muses would not be a letdown. In the crowd a balding man wearing a Throwing Muses shirt from the 1980s was spotted who had travelled all the way from London to see them. He was such a huge fan that it almost made him look cool. Their not being asked for an encore was very surprising, judging by their excellent performance.
Their follow-up, Lára, was much like Ragnheiður Gröndal, an Icelandic folk singer who belongs at weddings, family get-togethers and fundraisers at grade schools and old folks’ homes. She was so uninteresting that the concert guests turned their backs on her near the end, tired of being lulled to sleep. It took Hjálmar, Iceland’s celebrated reggae band, a while to fix the damage done by Lára. Eventually, though, the people wearing woollen shirts came streaming in, fitting into Hjálmar’s fashion statements of beards and plenty of hair. It was the longest set of the weekend. They played all their greatest hits until the sun came up.
Koja opened the last day of the festival. They needed more practise, co-ordination and harmony. It was like every member was playing his own song. Nortón, on the other hand, were brilliant. Their guitar player was overseas, but that problem was solved by bringing in a recording of him on video. They were so good that if they don’t get big then they’ll have to settle for a cult following of some sort. They’re a bit like Hot Chip in the way they play their keyboards and in how lively they are. The trombone gave them a unique quality, but the guitar player not being there that night was a problem. It was too quiet.
Skakkamanage were average, rather dull, but two Spanish men in the audience went crazy for them, thought they were the best of the night and were shouting about how they had to get signed in Spain.
Mr. Silla & Mongoose were finishing their first song before I noticed their Coco Rosie-like music. This particular performance was the only one in the festival where people would come to the centre of the room and sit down by the stage to enjoy the music. They covered an almost unrecognisable version of Destiny’s Child’s Lose My Breath, better than Destiny’s Child could ever make it.
Mammút will be the next great Icelandic success if they keep playing this well. It’s unbelievable how Jakobínarína have had more local press than them, when Mammút put on such a better live show. Sadly, like Jakobínarína, the set list was too short, and they left the crowd wanting for more.
Ghostigital are one of the artiest bands in Iceland. The music itself is very unusual, in that it sounds completely chaotic and random; in fact, a lot of their political lyrics are made up on the spot. Einar Örn is the most annoying aspect of the band. His blurted out lyrics are hard to understand besides occasional random politicians’ names. The music can be good most of the time but it was just too loud overall. The perfect gig for Ghostigital must have been the Náttúra concert (for protesting against building dams in Iceland and destroying the landscape) last January, where the rules were that the more political propaganda you played the better. Einar Örn’s son playing the electric trumpet is definitely the best aspect of their live act.
Speaker Bite Me was the third and last time I saw the singer of Jomi Massage, Signe Høirup Wille-Jørgensen perform. Speaker Bite Me were definitely better than Jomi. Their powerful instrumentation and vocals rocked the house and a cover of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here was much better than any version of it I have heard (and that song has been covered countless times). Its haunting chorus and drastic changes from the original were breathtaking. Speaker Bite Me were like the treasure that you find at the end of the rainbow. The rest of their show went smoothly, only improving if anything, they had become the highlight of the weekend and were in fact the best foreign act of the festival, slightly ahead of Throwing Muses.
Iceland’s homeboy, Mugison, recently made the decision to stop playing around with a laptop and guitar by himself and join with rhythm geniuses Guðni Finns and Arnar Geir. The change was definitely for the better, and Arnar, the new drummer, is an especially welcome addition to one of Iceland’s favourite exports. Mugison had fantastic contact with the audience.
A somewhat calmer act was Ampop, a band that recently turned a lot more pop than ambient. It would have been nice if they had played a bit longer and taken a few steps aside from the studio versions of their songs. The singer Biggi’s white suit was a bit unflattering, but all in all, they were pleasant.
Baggalútur were a great end to the long weekend, making the mostly rock and electronic festival into a massive barn dance for the small portion of people still maintaining consciousness.