Let’s start at the end. “Did you get in here for free?” lead singer Páll Rósinkranz asked two little children jokingly, carrying bouquets of flowers to our heroes as their last song came to a close. “Uncomfortable” is the word I’m looking for. Forced and un-unified, no one on stage seemed ready or able to do justice to what once was a great band.
Twenty years have passed since Iceland’s (arguably) most beloved full-on larger-than-life rock band bulldozed its way into Icelandic folklore, but they and everyone involved should have known there was no sense in trying to recreate the past. If you were around during the band’s glory years, celebrate the memory and tell the stories. If you weren’t there, listen to those stories, delve deep into their albums and let your imagination run wild. What’s wrong with recreating the past, you ask? Absolutely nothing. However, when the mighty Jet Black Joe sound like a Jet Black Joe cover band, there’s cause for alarm.
“SUCK MY THING,” AND WE DID.
Íslenska Óperan was sold-out. Not once but twice. Of course! They ruled! They are important to us. The set started with “Take Me Away,” a blast of a song from their debut. Quickly I notice a divide between singer Páll Rósinkranz and guitarist/songwriter Gunnar Bjarni on one hand and the “new guys” on the other. This incarnation famously only includes two original members of the band, which is sadly crystallized in very limited interaction or chemistry between the two camps. Heavy hit “Big Fat Stone” followed, but was played so fast that it lost its grit (Páll’s vibrato stylings didn’t help). The Beatlesque “I, You, Me” suffered the same fate. “Rain,” a smash-hit if there ever was one, was met with a roaring singalong. “Won’t Go Back,” “Stepping Stone” and a stiff rendition off Trúbrot’s “Starlight” proceeded. Luckily “My Time For You” got included but, again, the tempo was hurried.
“Higher And Higher” lit the place up and marked the first ever live appearance of the guy who laid down the famous flute solo in that song. Cool. Next came an acoustic set, handled by the two original members. “Running Out Of Time,” “Summer Is Gone” and a new song that sounded too Americanized for my tastes, got the intimate treatment. Coincidently, this formation was the highlight of the night. Páll and Gunnar got a spark going… a rare treat that night. I’m sorry to say.
With hard rock back on the menu “You Ain’t Here” echoed in the night as a drunk fan who had cramped everyone’s style in the first few rows was escorted out of the venue, only to return later for a one-man headbang showdown. My hero.
“BRING THE CURTAIN DOWN,” PLEASE
Eccentric music wunderkind and master-songwriter Gunnar Bjarni looked jittery from the onset. I hoped he’d shake it off but Páll made sure that was not to be. Various between-songs moments saw the singer direct—with condescension—the crowd’s attention to the rattled guitarist and his equipment predicaments.
Not cool, dude. He introduced “Falling” as one of Gunnar’s WEIRD creations. If by “weird” he meant “classically awesome” (which he conceivably didn’t), surely Gunnar is The Man. “Freedom” rang like an air raid siren, what with Sigríður Guðnadóttir singing their song live again. Oh the nostalgia. The crowd ate it up.
NO THEY DIDN’T
Then things went awry. They started playing Guns ‘N’ Roses’ rendition of “Knocking On Heaven’s Door.” Why!? Do you hate your own brilliant songs? “Nothing,” “Never Mind,” “Suicide Joe” (I could go on forever). Take a pick! This is not a sveitaball, guys. Redemption didn’t follow, but the hackneyed “Jamming” did. At this juncture one can only go up. Right? Not these guys. The broke into an insipid take on a Lenny Kravitz classic “Are You Gonna Go My Way.” My jaw dropped. There was no coming back from this. And then they played “Higher And Higher” … Again. Words escaped me. Yes. I know. I’m sorry.
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