Photo by Hvalreki
Things weren’t looking so great when I walked up the stairs to Risið on Saturday and was one of eight people in the room, including the three bartenders and the bands that had arrived. It was precisely 19:10, when Heima was meant to take the stage, yet there was a complete lack of action taking place. I inquired as to the start time, thinking I had misread my schedule, and, instead of a time I was given a lengthy imploration to stick around because the bands were all going to be really great and people are going to show up and everybody will love everything. I went back outside for some air.
Fifteen minutes past the posted start-time Heima took their places on the stage, taking a poll of the sparse audience to determine if their inter-song banter would play out in Icelandic or English. They finally announced to the Icelanders present “við ætlum að tala ensku fyrir útlendingana,” and thank god or else I would have missed out on their tales of spending five years in China, of which they spoke as though it had been the most hellishly un-enjoyable five years of their collective lives. Poor Heima.
The mixed gender duo was hard to place in my mind. While both displaying impressive musical abilities – the female contingent had some pipes on her that could fill up a concert hall the size of Harpa and the male half could probably make a decent career of a solo act with his care-free guitar strumming and his striking resemblance to Jesus Christ Superstar himself, Mr. Ted Neeley – but as a cohesive unit they came across like a younger incarnation of the hilariously unhip Marty Culp and Bobbie Mohan-Culp.
To add insult to hilarity the guitar was wildly out of tune, to which the player seemed oblivious and the female singer pulled facial expressions as though each stale note was like nails down a chalkboard.
[At this point in the night Catharine ran over to Tjarnarbíó to take in a performance by the inimitable AMFJ, while Valgerður Þóroddsdóttir stepped in to check out some Andvari] I think I’m in love with Andvari. They are everything I want in a band; young, polite, sincere, straightforward. They make you believe that people join bands for other reasons than that they just need attention. The atmosphere inside Risið during Andvari’s short set felt like the salad days of being in love, when you just want to spend all day cuddling under a warm blanket. To be honest though it sort of looked as though they had never performed in public before; there were some awkward gestures, and at one point one of the bassists got off stage and turned his back to the audience. At the end of the set the other bassist also kind of lost it—fell over himself and then started kneeing his guitar. It was weird, but, I don’t know, I was sort of into it. It was sexual and violent, and I was crushing.
[And… Catharine’s back] Icelandic wins this round
Polling the audience was a popular intro of Toggi, as well, but after a show of hands revealed that the growing crowd was rather evenly split between Icelanders and foreigners Icelandic won. A thinly veiled feigned act of consideration? Perhaps. All of Toggi’s lyrics are in English, though, and thank god they are because they were awesomely entertaining.
The voice is akin to Chris Martin, but less douchey, and the looks akin to a hipster Zach Galifianakis, but less fat, but the lyrics are original and hilarious… though I may have been the only one laughing. Wouldn’t you if you were listening to a song that begins sweetly crooning “I built this house for us, I built this house from dust” before devolving into a twisted story of a man building a house for his lover but rather than it being a quaint love nest it’s a building with bars on the windows where he can keep her from running off to sleep with other men, with Toggi romantically insisting “but it’s not a prison” in his sweet voice, accompanied by his jaunty and jovial guitar.
Other lyrical highlights of his upbeat and original troubadour act were an assertion that “some girls’ mothers are bigger than other girls’ mothers” and when the words of Madonna á la Papa Don’t Preach and Like A Virgin were seamlessly worked in with Toggi’s own.
It is the quirk and the off-kilter touches that the lyrics infuse into the act that lift Toggi above the fray. Pretty great stuff.
Lowering the bar
I considered asking a metal-loving friend to cover Kalli while I ducked across the street to check out long-time favourite Tunng, but the line-up wrapping around the Reykjavík Art Museum changed my mind. Around the time I changed my mind Kalli took the stage and dove headfirst into their opening song, the singers big grin overemphasizing every syllable and overenthusiastically going to town on his guitar while the rest of the band followed suit. My would-be backup-reviewer got the hell out.
Here’s the thing. There are so many cliché country-pop acts out there that you’ve really got to do something special or be just naturally phenomenal in order to stand out or be considered anything but a wannabe. Kicking off your set with a song announcing “California I’m coming home” in a heavy country-western accent and tossing in lyrics like “I get so high by loving you” and the like just makes me slump I my char.
Kalli sounds like a million other country/folky acts out there. Most of them do the Nashville thing with a lot more credibility. The audience seemed to agree as many lost interest and began speaking among themselves. The applause was sparse and brief.
Hey, remember Sprengjuhöllin?
After enduring an entire Kalli set I was almost looking forward to Snorri Helgason. While I had had a love/hate relationship with the former Sprengjuhöllin frontman’s solo music, I was really hoping that he was up to something different and fresh, as more than a year had passed since I last took in is act.
It’s the same.
It’s neutrality. It lacks all emotion and conjures no emotion. It’s run of the mill and unimpressive. Again, as with Kalli, the crowd seemed to agree.
And now for the Canadian portion of the evening
Canadian haunted folk rockers Timber Timbre were up next and immediately caught the attention of the room. After a few acts of nothing spectacular the original and stand-out-from-the-crowd stylings of the three-person outfit were just what we all needed. Earlier in the day, at the Canadian Blast off venue at Hressó Timber Timbre had taken advantage of the quieter setting to experiment with their songs, turning their set into more of a jam. Tonight they stuck more closely to the recorded versions of their songs, but still drawing out dark southern melodies and peppering the set with the beautifully-time yelps and screams and ticking sounds of front man Taylor Kirk, whose face was streaked with white paint for the set.
Unfortunately, as the crowd grew in number and their collective inebriation deepened the din overpowered the musicians and the volume was never adjusted, making it next to impossible to hear from even five meters away. Pity concertgoers weren’t paying more attention to the actual concert, because they could have seen something pretty spectacular. Those that were listening showed their enjoyment with loud applause and cheers at the end of every song.
Canadian band take 2
Up next was Snailhouse, another Canadian three-piece that tends to be on the quieter side of things. The bustling atmosphere of Risið just after midnight, when Snailhouse took the stage, was not a suitable environment for this mild-mannered folk band. Some keen on hearing the music sat on the floor directly in front of the stage. I vacated my perch by the bar to get a better listen as well.
Snailhouse plays really gorgeous mellow folk rock, somewhat reminiscent of The Magic Numbers, but without the chicks. The way that they transition between the slow, fluid melodies and jauntier interludes is seamless – other acts I have seen tonight could take lessons.
The crowd that was listening appreciated their efforts.
Markús & the Diversion Sessions claimed the stage after Snailhouse and the began an awkward rant about how they are thinking of changing their name to the “bom bom bom bom bom band” or “bom x5”. Everybody is drunk and everybody is getting rowdy and nobody could care less about what this fresh-faced young man wants to rename his band. Poor Markús.
M&DS strike me (and the rest of the uninterested audience) as background music rather than entertainment worthy of any great focus. Especially since their stage presence isn’t commanding enough to warrant watching and their sound is just way too similar to some of the other bands that we’ve already seen tonight. They’re still way more entertaining than Snorri Helgason.
Dear God is it over yet?
I’m of two minds about writing anything definite about Save Public. Sure, I took in their entire set, but Risið was so goddamn noisy and crowded that the room didn’t do them any justice. I mean, the Airwaves booklet tells me that “big things are expected of Save Public’s synth-drenched folk pop” but I’m just hearing another house band.
Book your day tours in Iceland right here!
Posted October 17, 2010