From Iceland — Sturdy Bar Required

Sturdy Bar Required

Published January 13, 2006

Sturdy Bar Required

Walking into Hressó on December 21st to see a Þórir gig, it felt a bit like New Year’s Day—the party had obviously already happened, and Reykjavík! was entirely responsible. While there was a universal view that Reykjavík! were “morons”, there was disagreement as to whether this was a bad thing, with most of the people who didn’t work at the bar arguing in favour of the behaviour.
Knowing this, we set out for Reykjavík!’s next show at Stúdentakjallarinn, where the walls are a little less fragile, early. Into the first number, I was glad to have concrete walls. Into the second, I wished it was padded. Reykjavík! are the single least coordinated band I have ever seen—for a 45-minute set, the rhythm guitarist Gummi accidentally unplugged his guitar no less than eight times. Lead guitarist Haukur, or lead rhythm guitarist, fell down. A lot. But Haukur and bassist Valdi kept the music churning, and the one member of Reykjavík! blessed with a minimal level of coordination tested this by jumping from chair to chair. The jumping was cool, especially when done just as Haukur was falling, as odds dictated would happen. (I’m not being cruel: Haukur explained that he loses balance when he plays guitar, that he “Can’t feel [his] legs]” but that this doesn’t stop him from dancing, hence falling.)
The falling was fun, especially when Haukur slammed onto his own guitar and borrowed a pricey guitar from headlining band Benni Hemm Hemm, only to fall on it immediately. (After the gig he swore to me that he “fell with it”—my viewing angle may have been obstructed, so I have to allow for this.)
Reykjavík! were indeed like New Year’s Eve: sloppy and messy and kind of fun, but after the experience of the show, I couldn’t remember one riff, one melody, one bit of rhythm, or one lyric that had drawn me in.

You would think Benni Hemm Hemm would be the polar opposite: Benedikt Hermannsson is the quiet type, and his lyrics and the basic melody are the key to a Hemm Hemm show, or at least to his remarkable first CD. For this Christmas show, however, Benni brought out some wacky other side. And a 14-piece band. One member of the band was decidedly pissed from the get-go, I should point out, because something had happened to his guitar. Still, the band cut loose—given that Stúdentakjallarinn isn’t a large venue, and it has concrete walls, a 14-piece band was able to work up quite a frenzy. Truthfully, this proved a disservice to the melodies on all but the last few tracks of the night. The vibe was often similar to nights in Madison, Wisconsin when the marching band would turn up at the bars and play rock numbers—fun, but somehow empty, for all its raucousness.
Benni’s vocals were unable to stand up to the sheer volume of the evening. It wasn’t a night for low tenor melodies. Surprisingly, it did become a night for hip hop: guest vocalist, Grapevine comic artist and playwright Hugleikur Dagsson unleashed an adept, whirlwind hip hop performance. Playing the laid back band leader, Benni seemed content to let the show get stolen, a graceful gesture on a night when people needed a party more than they really needed a performance.

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