From Iceland — Middling in the Art Gallery

Middling in the Art Gallery

Published October 14, 2011

Middling in the Art Gallery

8:30 pm at the art gallery and Borko are in full swing. I have found my spot for the night, slouched in a corner on the balcony, at this point taking in the denim clad asses of a denim clad couple standing in front of me. A lot of denim. So far, so good. I am appreciating being able to sit up on the balcony and observe things from above like some sort of demi-god (obviously landed in indie heaven given the number of self-consciously cool, and yes, denim clad, people around) and Borko are kicking…or maybe it’s better to say rolling things off to a good start.

Though they opened the night (which often means playing to an empty room) they pulled a fairly large crowd and get the evening underway with their usual mish-mash of musical stylings and slightly ironic humor. All good and well, people even danced a bit, well…sort of-ish, which is novel for 8pm on a Thursday, and then they got everyone to participate, though somewhat half-heartedly, in their tried and true and now just a little bit over-used (they did the same at the last two concerts I have seen them play) ‘crossed arms in the air dance’. If that is it’s name. Time for a new game?

Anyway, they played an OK set, a mix of old and new material, which gave the gig a bit of a familiar yet fresh vibe, and their sound is interesting…Quite relaxed, blending slightly mournful vocals with structured rhythms. On the one hand they don’t have much of a crazy crowd interaction thing going on, winding up the crowd etc, but then, why should they as that’s not really their schtick. So they gave the night a decent start and paved the way well for an inordinately long pause (I swear it wasn’t so long between sets at airwaves in the past) before Hjaltalín came and did their thing.

The crowd was getting big by this point, with the main area packed to about ¾ full and a whole lot of milling going on at the back. Not sure what the deal was but somehow the first half of the crowd seemed to be struck with some kind of paralysis, and though Hjaltalín isn’t exactly dance music per se, (more lie on the floor and stare at the roof music), it was a bit strange to see such a still crowd. They didn’t even manage a sway. Everyone seemed to be glued to the spot until the last song, when there was a bit of a clap along and a group of drunk teenagers near the front (bless my little spot on the balcony) managed to a joyous arms-linked-jumping session for about ten seconds. Good for them. Lovely to be young and drunk.

The whole thing was kind of strange. This was my first time seeing Hjaltalín live, and Grapevine reviews aside, all reports of their concerts had been of a great live performance etc, but the crowd in this case, didn’t give the impression of being particularly ecstatic. Or even awake at points. It didn’t necessarily seem to be a case of boredom, as they got a good reception and even a few screams at the end of their show (a hallmark of respect in these circles), but still, there was somehow a dearth of energy.

Next up in the art gallery were Retro Stefson, who have the whole live show thing down to a fine art. By now the place is packed and when I stepped out for a breather in an unfortunately timed downpour, I saw dedicated fans lining up around the block to see them (though possibly more likely it were Beach House who the line is for, as they are one of the many festival darlings of this year). Retro Stefson do a dandy job of winding up the crowd both with their good-clean-fun-kids-of today sound (yes, that’s a new genre) and their ‘zany’ onstage antics. Glad to see them utilizing another dance move in their whole ‘include the crowd’ thing (take notes Borko).

They are the funky kids of the moment and though the whole place went off and it was generally a jolly good show, one thing was troubling. At first it was kind of hard to pin down what it was but after a while it became apparent: it was too shiny. Seems strange to say but their music had none of the roughness that a live show generally has. Though of course there was some jamming that went on, a bit of improv here and there it all had a rather rehearsed feel, and the overall the show was too…squeaky clean, lacking in a bit of grit. Sometimes it felt as though they were putting on a play about a concert, and though the play was really good, and everyone was dancing, and saying yay, it was kind of unreal somehow.

In saying all this though, they played a show which got everyone going and on the whole seemed to make people happy. Guess it’s normal that people like sparkling clean performances which make them dance. Basically they did their job, it just seemed somehow as though it needed  a few cracks in the corners to give it something more.

So, that was all good and well, in it’s way, and by now the venue was full, the crowd below heaving with people ready to hear Beach House. A headlining act from the U.S and (judging from the size of the crowd), highly anticipated, they were an entirely different kettle of fish from Retro Stefson. Haunting, dreamy vocals and atmospheric guitars made me want to go and lie outside in a field and stare at the clouds. Unfortunately, Iceland in October is not totally suited for such things, but the ambiance their music brings is definitely along these somewhat naval gazing lines. Hate to use this adjective but it was nice.

Their stage presence ran along the same lines and though they did their thing in a very different way from Retro Stefson it was interesting to see the two bands along side one another, as they both worked well, but in very different ways. While it was Retro Stefon’s ca-razy vibe which got everyone going, it was purely the atmospheric music of Beach House that everyone got into. While the show was fine, it was however not one that created a huge fan out of me, having not enough oopmh behind it to compel real passion, and in the end, it was nice (that weak adjective again) and nothing more. There seemed to be a need for more dynamism to take it from a nice show, to a great one. However, I don’t think any of the huge number of fans there seemed to be disappointed in them, and they ended Thursday night in the art gallery on a reflective (if not amazing) note.

Overall, Thursday night in the art gallery was passable. None of the bands were particularly mind blowing, but then neither were they awful. The indie hoards which attended seemed to be satisfied with things, which is sometimes difficult, as these alternative types can be pretty hard to please. Though it didn’t really grab me by the hair and show me what Airwaves is all about, there was not one specific thing that was really crap.

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