From Iceland — The Night of the Meh.

The Night of the Meh.

Published October 16, 2011

The Night of the Meh.

The drummer from Lockerbie is wearing a Ramones t-shirt. Explain to me how that makes sense. Lockerbie play the most boring, predictable, hackneyed post-rock imaginable, and yet, there’s the drummer. Wearing a fucking Ramones shirt. What the fuck.

I’ve got to hand it to drummers, though. I’ve always been amazed at their ability to hammer away to the blandest shit imaginable, and this dude is no exception. He’s rocking out, the band’s total lack of inspiration notwithstanding.

Lockerbie’s second song is about an amp catching fire. That’s it. That’s the whole song. The singer explains it to us beforehand, more than slightly amused at the anecdote, and I’ll relate it to you for the purpose of this article: while they were writing the song, presumably in their rehearsal space, the singer’s guitar amp caught fire, and they noticed the smell of smoke. Soon, they discovered the amp was on fire, and they decided to write a song about this.

There is nothing inherently disagreeable about this decision. Where Lockerbie fail is the decision to make it the refrain, the main theme of the song. I mean, I understand the Murakami-esque desire to poetically describe the excruciating minutiae of everyday occurrences, but when the chorus to your song is “I smell smoke, something’s on fire,” and the whole crowd knows exactly what the song’s about, you’ve spoiled it.

And the music. My God, the music. I’ve read bands like this are supposed to exist, but I’d always assumed it was foreign propaganda, perpetuated by European travel agents and people working for exchange programs. If ever there was a band that embodied everything that can go wrong when you start an Icelandic band, this is it.

And what’s with the sound? The bass is inaudible, the reverb a wash of high-end static and the snare and cymbals drowning out everything else. This would be understandable if we were at some dingy stale-beer-smell basement venue with a sixteen-year-old vomiting into a sink and girls getting fingered on the dance floor, but this is Harpa. Didn’t we spend millions on this thing? Isn’t it supposed to sound like God being fellated by Mother Teresa? And yet, here I stand, listening to a shitty band sounding shitty.

It sure is big, though. This is only the second time I’m inside Harpa, and I don’t think you really realize how huge it is unless you’re actually inside it. The fact that it’s slightly removed from everything else makes it seems smaller, somehow. The fact that this is only one of four concert halls in it, and yet it’s large enough to house Agent Fresco’s ego, is actually fairly mind-boggling. What a waste.

Veronica Falls are a bit more lively, playing surfy pop-punk (but the sound still sucks), with stripped-bare guitars twanging out simple, sure-fire melodies. The singing is a bit half-hearted, but maybe it’s supposed to sound like that. I also wonder if the drumming is supposed to speed up like that, or if the drummer just can’t control his tempo. Either way, it’s fine; it’s not like it’s ruining the music. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Also, the refrain to one of the songs keeps almost turning into the refrain from Don’t Fear The Reaper… not that there’s anything wrong with that.

When Ólafur Arnalds starts playing, all the lights go off. His sparse piano, coupled with delicate and minimal strings actually make for a nice atmosphere… until his retarded background projection starts playing. It’s silhouettes of a kid’s mobile slowly spinning, with the animal shapes hanging on it detaching themselves one by one and leaving, only to have them reattach themselves at the end. What kind of message is a human being sending out by having this sickeningly ham-handed and childish horseshit accompany his music? Is he some sort of idiot? Or does he think we are? I’d ask him, if I wasn’t so goddamn certain the answers will infuriate me even more than the questions.

In any case, the crowd loves it. The room is absolutely packed, more than it will be for the rest of the night, and every person in the room applauds like their life depends on it between songs.

Treefight For Sunlight play flowery guitar pop with a distinctly European twinge to it. Where Ólafur Arnalds played interesting music that was not terribly good, Treefight For Sunlight play good music that is not terribly interesting. The highlight of their set is undoubtedly the song where the drummer sings lead, a mournful melody that delivers more atmosphere than anything else played in this room tonight. And the drummer’s actually just a treat to watch in general, his rhythms somehow being playful and to-the-point at the same time. And he’s pretty handsome, too. I’m not gay at all.

Jesus, fuck off with your off-beat handclaps, drunk tourists.

Man, oh man, do I not get the hype around Of Monsters And Men. I understand it’s all the rage to be “anthemic” and “folky” and “wistful,” but so is wearing garishly coloured tights (which one member of OMAM is indeed wearing tonight), and people aren’t losing their shit over that. And moreover, why do you need nine people, four of them guitarists, to play this simplistic asspiss?

Okay, maybe that was too far. Maybe comparing a well-rehearsed and well-meaning young band to that special kind of diarrhoea you only get from moldy Earl Grey or over-spiced Thai food is a little harsh. But it doesn’t change the fact that OMAM’s songs sound like they were written by a vending machine.

I go to the bar one last time, and finish the money in my wallet. Okay, John Grant, you have the time it takes me to finish this beer to impress me.

Make no mistake: I admire the songwriting talent Grant possesses. Pretentious pop-culture references aside, the man writes a breakup song like no-one else alive, and his affable honesty between songs could charm the methane ice off a Kuiper belt object, but dude: have a separate wardrobe for your live shows. I understand you were raised in the Midwest, but that’s no excuse for wearing a polyester hoodie and a ski cap while playing a concert. I’m not saying a full-on Liberace is necessary, just… put on a dress shirt, or run a comb through your hair. Something. Sometimes less is not more.

That said, his show is pretty straightforward, and does not need to be any more complicated than it is. A grand piano, some playback and the occasional cheesy synth solo are all that is required. I mean, Jesus, look at the effort Lockerbie, Ólafur Arnalds and Of Monsters And Men went to, but without the benefit of a song you actually put some thought into writing, it all amounts to fuck all.

Still, it doesn’t amount to more than just “meh.” Nothing tonight has impressed me enough to reach a level of appreciation that’s more than just “meh.” I guess if that’s good enough for you, then this was a good show. Otherwise, “meh.”

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