The star of the show in almost every way was Valgeir Sigurðsson, whose new Bedroom Community label served as the evening’s thread and whose performance – egoless, seated off to the side of a large group including strings, laptops, and drums – captured every ear in the room when it was loud and when it wasn’t.
Subdued and slowly captivating, Sigurðsson’s compositions – his first since stepping out of the shadows as a producer/collaborator with Björk, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, and others – play out like breathing little symphonies, pulsing with classical energy but infused with enough rock life that they never get dull. It’s that rare music perfect for sitting in a darkened bedroom or shuffling in a big club. Josh Modell on Valgeir Sigurðsson.
Those able to see Mugison (for some reason the police stopped people from entering the venue just before he took the stage at 23:00) was treated to a gorgeous set highlighted by pedal steel guitar player Pétur Hallgrímsson, playing only his second show with the band. Mugison danced his way through older material and a new track that he called “the best song he ever wrote,” before blowing his load on I Want You. The song has an immediacy in a live setting that leads you to believe he might file it in the non-fiction section of his mind. Raw and moving, it is infused with the horrible desperation that comes a moment after you realise it’s too late. Don Bartlett on Mugison.
Helgi Valur and his backing band the She-Males took the stage next with an eclectic mix of blue-eyed soul and covers of American hip-hop staples like Snoop Dogg’s Gin and Juice and Onyx’s Slam, both of which will appear on his forthcoming faux-LP The Black Man Is God, the White Man Is the Devil. Described by attendee Stephen Frew as “the David Beckham of the alternative Icelandic music scene” on account of his messy blond locks and rugged good looks, Valur came off as Chris Martin with a sac and a sense of humour, as adept at writing pensive love songs as he was at covering Montell Jordan. Joel Hoard on Helgi Valur.
Mr. Silla and Mongoose had a tough act to follow, and they delivered to a nearly ridiculous degree. Whatever her name might be, Mr. Silla illustrated that when channelled properly, there is no more potent weapon in the musical lexicon than the female voice. With the smoky sweetness of Billie Holiday working in tandem with the sharp elbows of Björk, Mr. Silla had the overflow audience in the palm of her hand. Don Bartlett on Mr. Silla and Mongoose.
The pleasant surprise of the night belonged to locals Benny Crespo’s Gang, who looked great and knew when to hold back and when to lay it on – a welcome change after three sets of little variation. Josh Modell on Benny Crespo’s Gang.
Most bands probably feel that goading audiences into cheering is cheesy, and most of the time it is, but if that’s what your band is all about…Then you’re called The Go! Team, Britain’s five-to-seven-piece (depending on the song) musical answer to the peppiest gang of cheerleaders ever assembled. Their album, the fun, engaging, sample-tastic Thunder, Lightning, Strike, can’t really be re-created live, so The Team – led by a ridiculously enthusiastic singer named Ninja – grab crowds with sing-alongs and enough driving rhythm to hide the fact that one song rarely sounds much different than the next.
That matters none to a crowd that just wants to jump around, and Ninja held the sweaty room in her palm. She worked for it with excess pep and vigour, and she got there. Josh Modell on The Go! Team.
The easy highlight was Stórsveit Nix Noltes, fresh-faced kids manning two trumpets, tuba, trombone, accordion, violin, cello, two guitars and drums. They blasted ahead with action-packed Eastern European rave-ups that managed to sound both virtuoso and soused at the same time: Prog-y rhythms, cut up Klezmer beats, rapid-fire solo sections and multi-layered interplay. The drummer rocked. Couples danced. Christian Hoard on Stórsveit Nix Noltes.
From France came straight-edgers Gojira. They joined in a prayer, popped a sugar cube and hit the stage hardcore. Fronted by a Fabio-kind-of-handsome frontman, featuring a bass player who defied logic, and a drummer who managed to reach impossible speeds on the double kickdrum, Gojira are likely the tightest band on the planet. Spot-on in the political debate, they started their show with the sound of whale song. They created the first real movement of the night with an actual mosh-pit erupting centre stage. In fact, said pit affects the writing here as I was stuck in the pit. At one point, I had to retrieve my notebook from the floor, resulting in cigarette burns and maimed fingers…As the venue slowly filled up, Gojira got the brunt of a NASA ovation. Sveinn Birkir Björnsson on Gojira.
Only the rarest of acts can pull off an uptempo song about leprosy without sounding schticky, but Cocktail Vomit did it with style. The quartet’s disco-techno set could have easily devolved into a farce with lines like “He had a really cute boner” and “I have a fatal disease / My skin is smellin’ like cheese,” but legendary producer Þórhallur Skúlason’s disco-techno tracks kept the focus from falling too heavily on the goofy lyrics. Also featuring a guitarist in a purple tracksuit and two platinum-blonde beauties on vocals, Cocktail Vomit capped off a hit-or-miss evening with a bang. Joel Hoard on Cocktail Vomit.
From his very introduction “Hey! I am DJ Platurn from Oakland, California… but I originally come from Stykkishólmur!” DJ Platurn had the credibility to bring some irony into the night. In an abstract and deconstructive set, largely played on funky breaks and aggressive breakbeat, he succeeded in finally capturing the growing crowd with an overwrought and doped-down remix of DJ Shadow’s “Organ Donor”. Fabrizio F on DJ Platurn.
The lack of oxygen inside overly crowded Gaukurinn might be a key factor why half of the people flushed out after Wolf Parade’s show, but those who stuck around for the last two acts of the night were in the mood to party. So was Jan Mayen. Kicking off with Shut Up Shut Down, Jan Mayen blew the crowd away immediately, drawing the now sweaty and intoxicated bodies closer to the stage with a vivacious performance, dynamic sound and one punchy track after another. Singer Valli, blessed with a voice twice his size, might not seem like a rock star when passing him on the street, but he sure as hell looks like one when fronting a band that must rank with Reykjavík’s best. Steinunn Jakobsdottir on Jan Mayen.