From Iceland — Live Music Review:Innipúkinn

Live Music Review:Innipúkinn

Published August 19, 2005

Live Music Review:Innipúkinn

Cat Power
A phenomenal singer-songwriter whose minimalist compositions have sometimes painfully great depth, Chan Marshall was not in good form on this occasion. A lot of this had to do with the fact that she remained sitting near the front of stage right for her entire set, thus ensuring that anyone on the floor more than six people back couldn’t possibly see her.
The vocals were surprisingly weak for this normally strong and textured singer, who most of the time continued to sing into the air around her microphone, instead of into it. The set was beyond subdued – a whispered conversation near the back of the venue was audible to people halfway from the stage. Anytime someone made a sound, it was heard so clearly that it would rouse a shushing fit loud enough to drown out the music.
Half the songs Cat Power played were covers, including a sweet medley of the Everly Brother’s “Dream,” “Blue Moon,” and “Try a Little Tenderness,” but also the threadbare-worn “Satisfaction” without any surprises. She seemed to lack confidence when she played her own songs, at one point ending a song abruptly and mumbling, “That one’s a bummer. They’re all bummers.”
Yup, that’s the sound of a good time. Cat Power ended her set with an asinine song that involved a lot of whistling, and left. There was no encore.

It’s 15:00 on Sunday afternoon, with most of last night’s guests probably just getting up right about now, and NASA has only about a dozen people in it. This is a band I’ve had the pleasure of seeing on many occasions, and have watched them grow. Initially a singer, guitarist and bassist trio with recorded keyboard and drum tracks, they soon added a live keyboard and, for Innipúkinn, had a live drummer as well who can be best described as a hard-hitting psycho.
Dýrðin’s driving, New Wave pop is well-served by a formidable drummer, and they were in good shape this night. They carried their numbers across so well that before long they start playing their songs faster than usual, the band’s already powerful singer more than able to follow through. This was when the few but fortunate guests seemed to really respond. The energy was high, and one wondered if NASA would be left standing if it were full at the start of the set. Dýrðin finished their set with the singer and keyboardist dancing continuously, the crowd elated, on a dance floor with entirely too few people on it.

Bacon do psychedelic rock very well, and as they play out more, their sets keep getting better. Their set at Innipúkinn was the best I’ve seen from them yet. Hook-led jams floated along by a drummer and a percussionist give a feral tone to a lot of their songs. Bacon avoid the obvious danger of jam-style compositions – tediousness – by keeping the dynamics moving. Before I knew it, they were singing for the first time in the set, some twenty minutes after they started. There were also fortunately few pauses between songs, a change from earlier gigs. If Innipúkinn’s set was any indication, Bacon could be one of the next big names in Iceland.

Apart from playing in matching asbestos disposal jumpsuits, Skátar are best known for hard-edged, jarring compositions that change time signatures abruptly, led by vocals that are closer to shouted declarations than singing. The singer/keyboardist’s energy is boundless, jumping and running in place, kicking over mic stands, the band unfazed and continuously firing out their songs.
There was a bit of audience interaction at the Innipúkinn set, with the rhythm guitarist heading into the crowd and creating the dog leash effect with his cord around people’s legs. At another point, the singer jumped into the crowd to stand, arms spread and head twitching, facing the band as they unleashed a piercing wall of sound. The highlight of the set came when they began playing “Halldór Ásgrímsson,” (about the controversial pro-business Prime Minister of Iceland) replete with a man in a Halldór Ásgrímsson mask onstage, dancing like an idiot. It’s a happy, cheerful song, and Dancing Halldór pumped his fist in the air a lot. Worth the price of admission.

Lake Trout
Man, did I want to like this band. From my hometown of Baltimore, these guys have been around for at least ten years, playing virtually every weekend since. I didn’t even know they left the state, let alone the country. And here they were at NASA. Why had I never seen this band in all the years I was in Baltimore, I wondered? Glad to finally correct the oversite, I went to see them at Innipúkinn with my hopes high. Which was a mistake, because Lake Trout play a heavily-diluted Dave Matthews style of bland, formless grooves that go nowhere. The music reminded me so much of a lame dormroom party that I half expected to see someone towelling a door at any moment. And when the flute solo started, all I could think about was how much better the one in Anchorman was. The music isn’t led so much by melody as it is by key, with the last song comprised of only one chord, and sounding like only one chord.

Dr. Spock
Dr. Spock is comprised of several members of the punk outfit Rass, and while Dr. Spock’s songs have the same hammering hard core as Rass, the former is a lot less enjoyable than the latter for two reasons: the singers. The lead singer barreled up onto the stage, barking and howling at the crowd in a cartoonish “scary” voice that inspired more annoyance than laughter. Not helping matters was the repeated cheers of “Skál” and prolonged gulps of beer between songs, followed by more chatter. The other singer, Ottar Proppé, was completely overshadowed by his counterpart but was still pretty entertaining, with the exception of his role in the band’s embarrassing rendition of “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

This band plays an older, classic form of reggae exceptionally well, and are well known for putting on a good live performance. The turnout was big for the Innipúkinn set, and they wouldn’t be let down – Hjálmar played the set expertly, leading the crowd into the mood with a long, subdued, dubbish number before singer/keyboardist (and former Grapevine cover boy) Siggi began to sing, inspiring a roar from the crowd and a series of reggae numbers that kept lifting the mood more and more. By the time they were done with their Innipúkinn set, the crowd was completely enchanted. A flawless performance.

Singapore Sling
Sound problems and a dispute over set length made Singapore Sling’s Innipúkinn set go through a slow start. Instruments took a while to set up. As I stood by the soundboard, I saw a man scream at the soundman, “Fifteen minutes for a set is bullshit!” before storming away. Once the band began playing their multi-layered rock noir, both intermittent feedback and an overpowering bass made the vocals and much of the band blurry and indistinguishable at first. Not long into the set, the problem was remedied and they sounded great – like a monolith on wheels rolling over the crowd. The set was held tightly together and ended with the crowd cheering for more. Twenty minutes that were worth two days in the Westmann Islands.

Day One
Donna Mess
Donna Mess is a trio of three girls in tights, with glimmer, 1980s and Jane Fonda style. They opened the festival with something more of a gymnastics video-goes-electro-punk -performance than a traditional concert, attracting a handful of fans to join the dance.

Helgi Valur
The young singer-songwriter Helgi Valur, who recently released his debut Demise of Faith, is especially recognized for his wide scale of voice. The performance was a combination of a sad voice, a guitar and a cello. He was joined by the audience for the last song, the cover of Gin and Juice.
Bob Justman
Bob Justman, also known as DJ KGB, was the first favourite of the festival audience. He played a short, troubador-style set, with nothing but his guitar and cigarettes on stage. The sharp, aggressive guitar playing grew stronger towards the end of the set, as Justman seemed to play himself angry, finally walking off of the stage with the last chords and last words (“hope that god will send you straight to hell”), in his open letter to US President George W. Bush.

The Reykjavík-based drum-keyboard-guitar trio Ampop offered a surprise by playing much more of a rock set than what I had heard from them before. The tight drumming by Jon Geir, jumping wildly up and down behind his instrument with a moustache that must have been remarkable as I’ve actually written it down, combined with strong guitars, and the singer Biggi’s soft voice and stretched high into the upper scales to sing the words (check out “Blindfold”, the freshly released solo album to get an idea how high he goes). Mirror ball lighting and the slowly filling NASA built an interesting performance. Ampop has released two albums, Made for Market and Nature is Not a Virgin, with the third one coming out soon.

Rass (OK, lets make it clear right from the start, it means “ass”) is a real Icelandic punk band. And, as Rass is a real punk band, it also performed a real punk concert, as far as I can imagine what a punk concert should be about. There was beer and leather trousers on the stage, the set included extremely short songs to extremely fast beats, starting with Goda Natt, followed eg. By Pönk Familie, Loftárás, Káranhjúkar and 5-6-7-8. The singer Óttarr Proppé (former singer of the legendary HAM and the other vocalist of Dr. Spock) screamed more and more by each song; and I could feel the floor under my feet shaking of all the bass and guitars and drumming.
Interestingly, the catchy tunes by Rass were heard chanted all around in the audience during the rest of the festival, no matter who was playing on stage.

“Motherfucking Úlpa’s in the house!” shouted the otherwise not so talkative vocalist of the Úlpa, a rock group from Hafnarfjörður. Their sound is a combination of electro and rock with several influences reaching as far as to the 1950s rock’n’roll – not only with the music but also in the twist dancing choreographies. They managed to build a weird, mystical atmosphere in NASA out of a Star Wars–style start to the show. The electro elements stayed in the background for the most of the set, combined with strong, sharp drumming. The combination sounded complex, but confusing, leaving me wondering if they had decided what they are eventually all about.

The energetic punk band Reykjavík! Divided the audience. Their “lively” (to use one word for it, also totally crazy and unbearable to either watch or listen to come to mind) show was named by some as the best live performance of the festival, while one observer noted that “somebody should tell him [the singer] that it’s embarrassing.”
One thing is certain, however: Reykjavík! Put on a show that didn’t leave the audience cold. The singer managed to, among other things, run around the concert hall and scream in contest with the audience, which at that point seemed to share the same level of drunkenness with the artists performing. As for the music…well, the performance and the screaming answered for the main part anyway.

When the young singer-songwriter Þórir all of a sudden climbed up the stage with a guitar, looking a bit lost and saying “Hello, my name is Þórir” it felt more like a guy from next table standing in front of the audience than a real rock star. On the other hand, it’s somehow so very suitable to the overall style of Þórir’s music. I missed the lovely version of the hit single Hey ya, originally performed by the hip-hop duo Outkast from his heart-warming debut album I Believe in This, but he did perform his hit Canada Oh Canada, which the plentiful audience appreciated. The audience was rather loud, however, as a counter to the sensitive sound of guitar, singing and drums.

Jonathan Richman
Jonathan Richman gave a very strange performance in front of a packed Innipúkinn audience, which again was a bit more drunk than ever before.
“There’s something very charming about him,” said one of the listeners, and, indeed, the audience loved him. Richman entertained the Merchant Holiday crowd with a few songs about Paris and Lesbian Bars. The cabaret-style show was based on a guitar and little drum set, salsa steps, jokes and imitations of Italian people.
Every time he touched the maracas the audience went nuts for some totally irrational reason. I followed the course of action with a strange feeling of being left outside, as Richman’s magic didn’t reach me in any way.

The singer-songwriter from up north offered one of the positive surprises of the festival program. Mugison understood the idea of the Verslunarmannahelgi and used it to its full potential, first in putting on his entertaining yet also musically interesting concert, and later on in partying (with a yellow umbrella) during the awesome show of the Brim crew.
As the set went on, Mugison played a few covers, including traditional Icelandic folk songs as well as some legendary Megas, then returned to his own oeuvre, with songs like I want you and Two birds from his latest album Mugimama is this monkey music? He also created new soundscapes of almost ghostlike screams and echoes and sampled wild Rósalegt and “yeah yeah” shouts by the audience as integrated parts of his set.

Apparat (Organ Quartet)
Apparat were one of the most anticipated performances of the festival. Four gentlemen in black suits, four organs in a row and a drummer, and the party was ready to begin. After the first song some of the artists took off their jackets, after the third one they loosened their ties. Towards the end also some patterns of dance were seen on stage.
The set could be described as hard rock played on organs. The jumping and swelling audience certainly looked more like metal heads than what is traditionally connected with the idea of an organ concert. Singing, if there was any, consisted of simple Kraftwerk-style repetition of groups of words, and the punk past of the drummer Arnar Geir Ómarsson could be heard in the beats. Compared with their album the live version of Romantica was much stronger and deeper. Also Cruise Control, Stereo Rock ‘n’ Roll and Sofðu litla vel were included in their excellent set.
The audience expressed their appreciation by rhythmic AP-PA-RAAAAAT shouts and mystical finger triangles that made the situation seem more like a cosmic rite than a rock concert. A group next to me left immediately after the show, telling me that they’d seen everything they wanted to see.

Brim hadn’t played together in years, after a strange course of action involving the loss of consciousness in bathtubs in northern Iceland, I was told. Dressed in blue jackets and ties, with considerable amounts of hair wax giving the finishing touch to their 50s style, Brim enjoyed every minute of their return back to the stage.
The band consisted of a saxophone, guitars, drums and a Singapore Sling member, shown in front of life-sized photos of girls in bikinis. The energy of the performance and the set full of rock, twist and a Batman theme made Brim the perfect band for the moment, a darkening Friday night on a Verslunarmannahelgi weekend.

Nix Nolte
The last act of the first day of Innipúkinn, the nine-member folk music group Nix Nolte had to compete with the games and fun of the downtown nightlife scene, as their time of performance was pushing 2 AM. Their show, as usual, offered some very nice eastern European sounds and melodies to party to.
After the extremely energetic rock show by Brim, the slower beats just simply weren’t enough to keep me stimulated, so I gave up to temptation and went to Sirkus, which to me looked far more crowded than the concert venue. On another look, all the people there seemed somehow familiar, too, and I think I saw most of them in the festival, either on stage or off, earlier that day.

Day Two

The energetic funk band Nórton had the difficult position of playing “really cool party music,” as one of the devoted fans described their style, on a Saturday afternoon to a slightly hungover audience. They performed an energetic show, including pink ties, a lot of jumping, and my personal favourite Bankastæti nr 0. The audience, rather few in number but all the more loyal, nodded their heads and enjoyed the show. A bit later performance time and that would’ve easily turned to dancing instead.

I heard approximately two and a half minutes of one song by the Icelandic duo Hellvar. Without any rational explanation to this, I thought the combination of thick bass beat and punk-style screaming vocals sounded horrible, so I decided to take a break and too many of the perfect local Dracula salt liquorice sweets instead. I warmly recommend the Draculas.

Nine Elevens
It said Singapore Sling on the program, but it turned out to be Nine Elevens. I was still on my blood pressure-raising salt liquorice break during the Nine Elevens, but I managed to see a few minutes of a show that could be described with a direct translation of a suitable expression in my mother tongue Finnish – “long-hair-heavy,” or pitkätukkahevi, as the original version goes.

Blonde Redhead
Sometimes a concert is “just” a concert, and sometimes it’s an experience. Blonde Redhead offered the latter, one of the peak moments of the Ínnipukinn festival.
Opposite to Reykjavík!’s lead singer running around in the audience, or Mugison’s use of interaction with the audience as material of his performance, the twin brothers Pace and the angel-like singer and guitarist Kazu Makino stayed distant and concentrated during the whole performance. The striking voice of Makino and the two guitars, playing to each other more than to the packed-full concert hall, seemed to exist in a little universe of their own, and the audience only enjoyed the extremely talented, amazingly beautiful and almost private performance from the outside.
The set was intense, with hardly any breaks in the stream of sounds in the air. Pace and Makino sang the first few songs in turns, one by one, coming more and more together towards the end of the set. The audience welcomed the songs Equus and Falling Man with cheers, and earned the encore performance by simply not giving up the stubborn applauds and shouts of “Meira!”

Hudson Wayne
The local rock group Hudson Wayne played a beautiful, quiet concert as a warm up to Antony and the Johnsons earlier this summer, and their recent album The Battle of Bandidos has been the unofficial soundtrack of the record store 12 Tónar during my several visits over the past weeks, so I was excited to see them live again.
But what I didn’t realize was that Hudson Wayne is a lot about atmosphere, and THE weekend to party in this country wasn’t the right moment for their type of atmosphere – sad, dark, melancholic. Even if the songs sounded almost as beautiful as always – the almost added mainly because of the amazingly difficult NASA sound system, and even if Hudson Wayne collected an impressive crew of talented people on stage, something of the atmosphere was missing.

Raveonettes was a pure question mark for many, and there was a lot of curiosity towards the Danes before the show. Before their latest album, Pretty in Black, the band had released two albums, each of them in one key, the EP Whip it On in B-flat minor in 2002 and the full-length album Chain Gang of Love” in 2003 in B-flat major, with three-chord songs only.
Their answer to the expectations of the cheerful Innipúkinn audience was more than an hour-long set of simple yet effective rock tunes influenced by the early 50s bands, making the audience jump for joy. The Sune Rose Wagner – Sharin Foo duo (with back-ups) was unlucky enough to experience practically all the technical problems imaginable, and the problems culminated in a power cut during the cover of the Angels’ My Boyfriend’s Back, originally written by their producer in the 1960s. The audience wouldn’t stop the party for such minor details.

Many mentioned Trabant as the main reason to invest in the Innipúkinn tickets. I had never seen them live, but I had been well informed of their tendency to perform “explosive” live shows – in the literal meaning of the word.
I got exactly what I expected, nothing more, but nothing less either. I got five men in little clothing behaving like maniacs on stage, with a lot of glitter and explosives, red silk costumes and champagne that could be classy and chic. The show also included little spectacles such as lighting minor fireworks in the mouth of one band member, and a Nasty boy -costume with silver tape ripped off the nipples of the lead singer. The set included all the essential songs from their latest album Emotional, including the title track, I Only Can Stop Loving You with a wild scratching session, and finally the hit single Nasty Boy.
My companion summed up the performance: “I liked the naked parts.” The Verslunarmannahelgi audience enjoyed every drop of the show, and left exhausted and satisfied. Trabant was certainly a perfect way to end the two-day marathon.