From Iceland — The Good, the Bad and the Shemales

The Good, the Bad and the Shemales

Published October 16, 2011

The Good, the Bad and the Shemales

If during the whirlwind of weird that was the band’s thirty-some minutes on stage I had had a moment to do anything besides stare incredulously, I would have undoubtedly heard the song Mama Told Me (Not to Come) playing somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain.

Words cannot describe the surrealist nightmare that was Helgi Valur & the Shemales’ set on Saturday night; I’m breaking into cold sweats just thinking about trying to describe it.

If during the whirlwind of weird that was the band’s thirty-some minutes on stage I had had a moment to do anything besides stare incredulously, I would have undoubtedly heard the song Mama Told Me (Not to Come) playing somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain.

Honestly though, I’ve never felt more sober in my life. The chaos of emotion the set evoked in me registered as something like a mixture of regret and guilt. Like I had just lied to get out of dinner at my parents’ house—the set was scheduled to begin at 19:30—in order to go to the seediest basement party imaginable, where the only thing anyone seems to have in common, or seems to be able to express to anyone else, is a clumsy level of intoxication.

Things looked quite promising to begin with, actually, until—like a bad trip—everything suddenly started to go horribly wrong. With a full-crew of accompaniment onstage: including a classically trained pianist, cellist, and trombonist, Helgi Valur kicked off in a big way, with a full-bodied sound; vitality, and fire. Almost immediately, however, the singing became frenzied, and by the second song there was so much strange going on I couldn’t write fast enough.

What was mostly weird was the mixture of seriousness and irreverence on stage—the mingling of mindful musicians who were trying to comprehend what the hell Helgi Valur wanted, and the various accomplices onstage whose practical functions were vague at best. First off, there were these two elderly gentlemen—hep cats, let’s say—one sporting a leather jacket and glasses that lit up in each corner, the other wearing a hat and sunglasses and holding a green star-shaped tambourine that he became cognizant of and subsequently shook from time to time. Although they occupied separate sides of the stage, sometimes the two catz would make vague attempts to interact with one another, such as making eye contact whilst slowly nodding their heads up and down in unison—as if to say, yeah, man, here we are. In any case, it was clear that these gentlemen were there just to groove—to offer their years of expertise in the hopes of adding something to the ‘jaminess’ of it all.

But unfortunately cat 1 and cat 2 weren’t the only ‘mood enhancers’ joining the show. During the second song, the aptly named, Smoke the Past Away, a young woman with unruly hair, dark lipstick and a will-they-won’t-they nip-slip dress began engaging in an angry-sexy (whatever that is) ‘bodily performance’ on stage, seemingly in order to intensify the music with her—is it rude to presume?—extreme highness. Mostly this involved touching and being touched—let’s say grabbed—by Helgi Valur. This went on, for pages in my notebook, but I would really not like to rehash the gritty details. Suffice it to say that witnessing the show was akin to watching a car hit another car, and then the people involved in the accident get out and start punching one another. Helgi Valur steadily decreased in clothing, ending shirtless in shiny, tight black pants—the effect of which was about as sexy as when that groove cat with the goatee pulled up the dancing-girl’s dress, causing her to fall over and revealing her stockinged bottom. By the end of it all I felt like a hurricane had just gone through my perceptive capacity.

The younglings of German trio Sizarr really are too cute for school. And although that’s probably where they’re supposed to be right now, I think they may just as well spend their time on what they’re doing, because it has the potential to be something really interesting. Like tribal, electronic Jeff Buckley, Sizarr are counterintuitive in a way you wouldn’t expect from such a young band. Lyrical and melancholy, they sounded like Realpeople if Zach Condon was a bit more dance-oriented and repetitive. Actually, maybe they sounded a bit too much like a lot of people. And they might want to rethink their voice-to-music ratio a bit (seriously, why do singers think they need to constantly be heard? I’m not going to forget about you if I don’t hear your voice for one second). But that is only to say that the beats were good enough to be equal partners in the music, to be allowed to speak for themselves. Plus they had these cool, swimming balloons. Overall, quite promising, I’d say.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. got the festival’s biggest crowd at Tjarnarbíó this year, but the highlight of their show was undoubtedly their cover of Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody. The implication of which may or may not speak for itself. Their original music, however, had a rockabilly-inspired storytelling aspect to it, which, blended with 90’s pop-rock harmonies (á la The Rembrandts, but minimalist, and indie, and not nearly as mind-blowingly obnoxious) made them mostly enjoyable, and certainly danceable. What really killed it for me though was all the nanana’s and dadada’s in between real lyrical lines. That definitely moved them up a couple notches on the Are you as annoying as the Rembrandts? scale.

Despite the fact that their singer-guitarist sat down from time to time to play his sitar barefoot, Elephant Stone were mostly underwhelming. Still, they achieved what I think they were going for—some take on early ’60s rock-psychedelia, with an Indian twist, sort of. And they looked like they were having fun. And the crowd looked like they were having fun. So that’s something. Still, it was too busy for my taste. Especially since they weren’t being all that complex with their melodies. Less is more when what you’ve got is mediocre, I think is how the saying goes.

Dear Dikta: I’m sorry. I want you to know I really didn’t want to review you again this year. And I’m sure you would appreciate some else’s opinion. So let’s just get this over with.

Is it the venue that makes the band? On Friday night last year, Dikta filled Listasafnið, playing to a brimming, roaring crowd of adoring fans; this year at Tjarnarbíó, there were a devoted seven, crowding the stage. Oh fame, what a fickle bitch you are! This I’m sure the lead singer was thinking as he wiped his sweaty brow with a black towel embroidered with the word “Dikta”. And yet, although the band joked about the empty venue, looked at their watches, and generally sped things along, I’m sure they weren’t suffering that much. And I’ll give it to them: they are really good at what they do—even if I don’t find what they do interesting in the least. But there are people who do find it interesting. Like that woman in the front wearing the go-go boots and the silver-hoop belt. She loves Dikta. Dikta is her favorite band. She knows all the words, to all their songs, and she does not care at all that there is no one standing behind her on the dance floor, and that she could probably move back a little bit to get a better view and maybe not put such a burden on her eardrums. But she just cannot be close enough to this band. And who am I to criticize this woman for loving? Yes, ok, people want to be in bands! Fine! There are like at least seven people who are still into it, and I mean, you’re into it, so, God bless you, Dikta.

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