It’s Wednesday night and it’s all beginning. The wind is blowing like it doesn’t blow anywhere else and I am almost pushed from my bike on the way down to Harpa, body forcing against the brute strength of it. But I prevail, luckily, and arrive without mishap to a packed hall. Awesome as this building is, it reminds me of an airport somehow in this moment, people standing around, chatting, waiting, hurrying off to shows. I find Kaldalón, where people are crowded in, stacked on their tiered seating like proverbial sardines in a tin, spilling out onto the aisles. The haunting waves of Ylja are washing over the crowd.
The band stands in a line on stage. They don’t seem used to this performance thing but they are a handsome bunch who make awkward banter and sing like sirens. Their interesting blend of down home and otherworldly is instantly appealing, easy but stopping on the point of becoming mundane or middling. ” I am impressed,” said one audience member who was, er, impressed. Quite. Me too. Their name means warm in Icelandic, though it’s a pretty poetic word in my opinion and funnily enough, they are a warm, poetic kind of a band. They sang odes to their mothers, and could capture the heart of the most world weary cynic, I swear. And thus, with these odes and beating hearts, they warmed up the evening, setting the scene for the unprecedented might of Úlfur.
Úlfur began with a hum, and grew from there. There was a huge projection looming above them that mesmerised the crowd, upon which images flowed in time with the music, actually not unlike a screen saver, but in the context of the music, it was completely magnetising. It was interesting to watch a performance where the main focus was not the actual performers themselves, but the images being produced by their sounds.
Using a number of gadgets, a team of wind instrumentalists and a dude with a guitar, Úlfur let music bleed onto the stage and into art, which was then soaked up and squeezed into more music. The result was an almost journeylike performance which actually caused me to write spontaneous poetry in my little notebook. Yes. That good.
So far, so dandy. Next up was Magnús Leifur. They made no formal introductions, but it’s all in the name anyway. As later became apparent, Magnús Leifur is a solo artist who has recently started working with a band and they launched right in to their set. The music was blocky, layers of chunky sound that built slowly. There was a discordance to his voice. It wavered, high above the hard, strong consistency of their music.
The room was half empty by now, and the crowd motionless. Possibly a little suffocated; it was really hot. There was a sturdy feel to them, somehow in the repetitive rhythms they generated, the way their heads moved in unison, these little details which pulled together to give an overall atmosphere of strength.
I was, however, left undecided. They felt like a solid band, particularly in terms of their instrumental sound, which was actually really convincing. Their performance is fine but it feels like they might need something else as far as the vocals are concerned. The singing didn’t quite match their bulky, heavy sound. Nonetheless, the are entertaining and the night rolls on. The next group to play is GP!, an instrumental band. The lack of lyrics is possibly for the better, as this is stand alone stuff. Layered. Lyrics would conflate matters.
Five guys and a crashing wave of sound tumbles like a coherent cacophony at our feet. There were moments where an instrumental Tom Waits staggers out, crumpled and worse for the wear. Moments when we were driving through the shattered American dream without a seat belt, west bound in a beat up car. Moments of classic mullet rock, guitars crying. There were moments, indeed, moments.
There wasn’t much conversation. A brief introduction. They are all in other bands. Busy guys these GP! guys. The moments continued, strung together on a thread of other moments. Bass thrumming. The audience was motionless, and the band were not so theatrical either, just keeping with the cascade of sound. There is an awkward pause where they seem to have finished a song and everyone claps, but they keep playing. The set moves on. The songs become more structured, less of a collection of fractured moments. Build momentum, fill out and then they are done, all of a sudden, making way for Nóra, who take to the stage amid another swelling chorus of crying guitars, hard rhythms though this time with a difference as Auður, their female vocalist has a sweet voice, and together the band spewed melodies, letting layer after layer of built up sound bear down upon us, until we were putty in their youthful hands.
They had a young feel, though I guess they all do, these days (bloody kids), although this had no bearing on their sound or performance, which was well rounded. They felt like a tightly knit group and this had a good impact on their onstage presence, making their set flow. They already seem to have garnered quite a following, and the audience spilled out into the aisles once more. Apparently their “pledgers,” (as the band referred to their supporters), guys who helped them financially make their album possible were numerous amongst us. And they have a new album out, thanks in part to the help of those people.
Their sweet cacophony continued, but unfortunately I was starting to feel like I had heard enough swelling and crashing for the night, so once they finished up, I was a little relieved, waiting with bated breath for the Jack Magnet Quintet, who were up next.
They came with a change of gear, beginning with a moan from a girl who doesn’t look like she moans like that. The band filed onto the stage bearing a myriad of instruments and they started to play, jamming jazzily, or jazzing jammily. It was ok, but I was a little disappointed that the unnerving low moan of the opener was replaced by something a little more conventional. However, a change of gear is a change of gear, and I appreciated the move onto something new. This was bubbling, fizzing jazz and they played on, jangling and grooving…The vocals were some kind of wailing skat and the head of the gentleman in front of me is bobbing around, so they must be doing something right. They finish up all at once and are off, after having played a flowing set that almost had a spontaneous feel about it, making way for Snorri Helgason and his band, which closed the evening at Kaldalón.
Even before they played I was excited. In the break they wheeled a grand piano onto the stage. A grand piano! I hoped wasn’t not an expensive trick. I was tired. The woman next to me was in fact snoring, so I know I was not alone in feeling the weight of the evening on my shoulders. Seems like we were all ready for some grand piano.
He begins and these soothing notes are exactly what I need. What we all need, after a night of jangling, crashing, cascading sound. These solemn notes, this harmonica. This somewhat melancholy voice. They play ‘Mockingbird‘ and I am sated. Heads are resting on shoulders, music settles around us like a blanket, the highs and lows of the evening are smoothed over. The band were cool and collected and went through the motions of the gig like it was second nature, their sound was cozy, an inside on a wet sunday kind of affair. The atmosphere was easy going and with that final performance Snorri Helgason and his sweet band sealed Wednesday. Bring on the rest!