From Iceland — Giving Away Great Art

Giving Away Great Art

Published June 25, 2004

Giving Away Great Art

5ta herdeildin is playing their second gig of the day.
A talented four-piece, lo-fi, folk-influenced, genre-defying band, 5ta play in front of the globe in the pit of City Hall, then walk with me to the Alþingi in the hope that they might be arrested for playing. They are disappointed that the Alþingi is out of session, and that the building itself is under construction. As it happens, the construction workers take a break to listen to 5ta, applauding along with a few drivers who pulled over when they heard the music, trying to get involved in a conversation and compliment the band.
It’s curious. Nobody has been warned of the tour. Few people seem to know about the album, but everybody reacts well to the music and wants to hear more. Gísli, who has given me the off-putting stage name Gímaldin, (a vast opening or void), is phrasing his vocals beautifully, and he and the rest of the band have a natural charisma. Loftur Loftson on double bass is solid and smiling like a maniac, Hermann Stefánsson is playing arguably excessively catchy treble banjo hooks, and Gestur Guðnason throws out Robbie Robertson-style guitar riffs. It’s a band that immediately attracts fans.
As soon as they finish two or three numbers, though, the light seems to go out, and the band just wanders away. No sales pitch. No reminder about who they are or where one can see them.
After the second gig, an American couple who caught an earlier show chases Gísli down as we’re walking and asks, one more time, for a spelling of the band so they can go buy a CD. He makes 5ta sound like the most foreign concoction of words I’ve ever heard.
At 3:30, we’re at Café Hressó. The place is full, and everyone again is immediately into the music. I wonder if this will be the show where the band really cuts loose, where they will play for a couple of hours, as bluegrass bands in the United States do. They play four songs to strong applause and pack up.
5ta are making some of the best music in Iceland, and they are an extremely rewarding live act. They are also shy, almost to a fault. In a town where everyone seems to be selling themselves, 5ta is humbly giving away great art.
Their album, Áður óútgefin lög, however, is for sale at 12 Tónar.

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