From Iceland — “We Like Country People”

“We Like Country People”

Published August 11, 2006

“We Like Country People”

Borgarfjörður Eystri is a beautiful place, a small town in the country with a population of about 140. You wouldn’t expect culture to erupt from this place. Yet Borgarfjörður has been home to many of Iceland’s most prominent artists. Iceland’s most famous painter Jóhannes Kjarval, the poet Gyrðir Elíasson, the singer Emilíana Torrini and everybody’s favourite – Magni, the Supernova reality television star, all have ties with Borgarfjörður Eystri.
The town also has two pubs, which is a phenomenon considering how small this place is.
Arriving at the much anticipated Emilíana Torrini and Belle and Sebastian concert, which took place in a rusty shed, I expected a showdown between the country and city folk. All of Sirkus (an indie bar in Reykjavík) was there, so it felt like downtown Reykjavík without the cement. John Waters couldn’t have written the plot better. We had two parties: one that thinks of music as something to think and talk about, absorb, cherish and to have elite opinions about, and another group that wants to get drunk, get laid and sing songs. I’m not making a judgement on who is right (they probably both are), but you could feel the tension between these two groups.
There would have been a third group, but they didn’t show. A bunch of people probably on the lower end of the IQ spectrum had decided to go to Borgarnes, on the other end of Iceland. There are similarities in the names Borgarfjörður Eystri and Borgarfjörður but to say this mistake is justifiable is like saying that importance and impotence are things you could get mixed up. It’s nice to be important but it sucks being impotent.
I walked into the shed, which resembled an Amish barn on the inside. It had been beautifully decorated with windows from the old church. Lights adorned the windows, making the barn warm in the cosy sense of the word. Everything was beautiful except for the disco ball hanging from the ceiling, but even that decoration was actually fitting for the atmosphere. The crowd looked like they graduated from MH, went to art school and partied at Sirkus and were not accustomed to shaving their pubic hair (most Icelanders are, by the way). Of course, I’m generalising, but it is clear that the band that epitomises indie is going to draw an indie crowd. Soon 1,000 people, almost ten times the population of the town, filled the barn. The concert promoter, Rockstar: Supernova Magni’s brother, walked onstage and introduced a cameraman. He announced that this was a video he was going to send to his brother and we should all scream “Áfram Magni” or “Go Magni”. I couldn’t help but think that Salvador Dalí would approve of the surreal nature of this moment. There I was in the middle of nowhere in Cannery Row waiting for the world’s most prominent indie/underground band, screaming “Áfram Magni” for the American bubblegum show Rockstar while people of all ages were there for reasons of music, fun, heritage or just along for the ride. It seemed surreal yet comfortable.
Emilíana walked onstage and the crowd went wild. She seemed shy as she whispered, “You’re all wonderful.” She talked about how Belle and Sebastian loved this place and that they couldn’t stop smiling. Though warmly received, Emilíana was maybe too soft for the drunkenness of the crowd. People had been drinking all day, and it was apparent that for inbreeds this was their “Þjóðhátíð.” The crowd overwhelmed her, and, eventually, Emilíana got sick of being cute and told the retards to shut the fuck up. Then she gently told them they could go out and talk and then come back inside. This was an excellent suggestion. And the next time somebody tried to act up an army of shushers quieted them down.
Emilíana is an impeccable singer and her songs are pretty good (at least when she sings them). Some people are sick of her being cute and fail to see her dynamics as a singer. I am one of them, but I believe she hasn’t decided on her future sound. Emilíana has always changed through time and that’s what makes her so great. If you want dynamics just wait a while. She’ll deliver.
Next up were the legendary Belle and Sebastian. In the minds of many people, including me, Belle and Sebastian is a band that can be mentioned in the same paragraph as Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and The Doors. If you know an arty girl who went to MH and parties at Sirkus, chances are she has a few Belle and Sebastian CDs in her collection.
Stuart Murdoch, the singer of Belle, had become a real local favourite because he played football with the hometown team against Egilsstaðir. The home team lost but apparently Stuart had a killer game in the defence.
Belle and Sebastian took their time starting the show but people didn’t mind drinking like ecstasy addicts on weekends. Belle and Sebastian’s music possesses a cheerfulness that really cheers. Stuart’s voice is in my opinion perfect. They blend happy music with melancholy melodies. But on this evening there was just joy. I couldn’t help but smile as I thought of the local who left before Belle and Sebastian announcing he was going to another bar.
The crowd sang along and even sat down for one song, but some took their enthusiasm too far, singing anthems in between songs. While I cursed those rednecks in my mind, Stuart announced that he likes country people. I couldn’t help but disagree. Belle played for over two hours and didn’t show any signs of fatigue, nor did the crowd that had been standing for four hours. They ended with “The Boy with the Arab Strap,” pissing me off because I had been waiting for “Dylan in the Movies” the whole time. I asked the band after the show why they didn’t play “Dylan in the Movies.” They rightly answered, “We’ve got a lot of songs.” They have a lot of albums and lot of songs, most of them great. So how could I complain? For me this weekend of Sigur Rós and Emilíana and Belle and Sebastian is the best weekend of my life and will shine as a guiding light to which all future experiences will be compared.

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