From Iceland — The Choppy Line-Up

The Choppy Line-Up

Published November 1, 2013

The Choppy Line-Up

Although I deeply respect and understand the urge to push boundaries, there is always an audience to consider. Doing something is not the same as pulling it off.

The program at Iðnó started quite early. The first band, Nóra, was on stage just after seven, and attracted a surprisingly large audience for such an early time-slot. Still the venue was far from packed and that usually presents a problem at the echo-y sounding Iðnó, which needs to be relatively packed in order to properly serve the bands playing there. Nóra derive from the prolific post-rock scene in Iceland, and proved at Iðnó that they are a quite good live band. Their performance would only have been strengthened by a larger audience.

Hudson Wayne is an Icelandic band that started making the rounds in the mid-noughties. They have made a reputation by being able to balance lo-fi soul singing against the backdrop of a surfy rock n’ roll. I hadn’t seen Hudson Wayne play for quite a few years and I found their performance nothing less than striking. Surf influences are relatively common in Icelandic rock music but not nearly often executed in such an eloquent manner as Hudson Wayne did on Thursday night. Paired with an excellent musicianship is the singing of their front-man Þráinn Óskarsson who conveys a soulful yet quiet desperation with his beautiful deep voice, reminiscent of Leonard Cohen and Tindersticks’ Stuart A. Staples.

I knew nothing of the band Eldar before the show so I was surprised to see the Valdimar of the eponymous Valdimar take the stage along with singer Védís Hervör and other well known players in the Icelandic music scene. They play low key pop rock with an emphasis on ballads and do it quite nicely. Stafrænn Hákon followed with their more up-beat take on the same genre but didn’t connect with the audience the same way Eldar were able to do. No boundaries pushed.

When the Canadian band Cousins took the stage the night took a u-turn. The crowd had pretty much renewed itself from the start of the night and gone were the moments of lo-fi soul. Cousins play aggressive punk rock, the band consists of a drummer and a guitarist (who also sings) which makes it easy to fall into the trap of comparing them to The White Stripes. Cousins’ vibe is completely different. They are playful and to not take themselves as seriously as the aforementioned White Stripes, in fact they do not seem to be particularly self-conscious at all. The joy of playing outshines any existential issues the band might have and is expressed thoroughly through their joyous and melodic punk rock. I would recommend to anyone interested to find a way to see this band live, that is were they are truly in their element.

It took a while for Canadians No Joy to almost completely clear Iðnó, but they did. Their surf rock infused sound was not as tight as one would expect and there seemed to be little or no connection between the band and the audiences. No Joy’s rock n’ roll sound was never enough noise, surf or whatever they wanted it to be because there’s only so much echo and reverb a band can use before it renders it disconnected at best, pretentious at worse. Although I deeply respect and understand the urge to push boundaries, there is always an audience to consider. Doing something is not the same as pulling it off.

The last act of the night, UK’s Stealing Sheep, was a far more accomplished band and they seem as if they are on the brink of something great. The band is fronted by the whole band; three women, all singers, all musicians. Their pull was really quite something. They not only managed to completely fill and empty venue, but it became so crowded many came and left and people went outside for air – Iðnó finally became alive. Iceland Airwaves was Stealing Sheeps’ last stop after three years of touring and their exhilaration and joy shone out. They engaged the audiences more than any other band at Iðnó that night.

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