From Iceland — The Night the PA System Blew

The Night the PA System Blew

Published May 31, 2007

The Night the PA System Blew

As a part of the Take Me Down to Reykjavík City concert series, the Grapevine assembled a handful of upstart bands from Reykjavík to showcase at Iðnó. The historical theatre house is not typically used for shows, even though it has a spacious main ballroom and a sizable antechamber. Sound at the theatre is clean and relatively professional; that is, when the bands aren’t cutting out every minute or so. But we’ll get to that later.

American singer-songwriter Sam Amidon started the show with a set of what he claimed to be “old American songs,” but I’m pretty sure I heard some Tears for Fears in there. The native Vermonter’s first few songs sounded like an impressive mixture of southern folk and the Red House Painters. However, in the middle of one particularly gorgeous number he belted out two horrific shrieks, with accompanying eerie facial expressions. People carefully began to move away from the front of the stage in what seemed to be an act of self-defence. Fight or flight. A last minute addition, Amidon and his antics didn’t seem to fit in with the seriousness of the other bands that night.

As for Hjaltalín, I typically get sceptical when a band I haven’t seen before gets on stage with instruments like the bassoon, the accordion or the cello. It can go either way with these bands: either they rock (like The Arcade Fire) or they come out overblown and pretentious, using layered instruments to cover up bad songwriting (think The Decemberists). Fortunately, Hjaltalín ended up being more like the former. The band had a well-rehearsed set, the power of Högni Egilsson’s lilting voice, and numerous clever string arrangements. “Goodbye July” was among the best performances that night.

As far as the hype surrounding FM Belfast goes, I’m sold. The members dressed up like my grandparents and furiously dryhumped everything in sight. Mastermind Árni +1 fingered away at a sticker-covered Mac while the others sang in high, cooing voices. With strong beats and scattered electronic blips and bleeps, they had at least 5% of the crowd dancing (which was more than any other band that night). Without a doubt, the sassy FM Belfast stole the show.

I should say that if Sprengjuhöllin is the least impressive band on your ticket, you’re doing something right. The quintet isn’t going to break new musical ground anytime soon, but they do the pop thing well. An Icelandic rendition of the Motown favourite Heatwave was the highlight of their set.

On came the long awaited (and debuting!) Motion Boys. Quite unexpectedly, singer Birgir Ísleifur opened up with a solo, an unplugged version of Hold Me Closer to Your Heart on the electric piano. A group chorus of “hoos” at the interlude indicated that a lot of the audience had done their homework. The band came out and played a few songs together, when suddenly the power blew out. The band, being either valiant troopers or too deaf to hear that they’d lost their loud keyboards, continued their song before finally realising that they had rocked too hard. The Boys looked unscathed, but the crowd was obviously disappointed. Eventually, Birgir Ísleifur finished the set solo and unplugged to a diminishing crowd.

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