From Iceland — Sódóma - Friday

Sódóma – Friday

Published October 17, 2009

My roommate Gummi is a chef. He was making a meal that I quite fancied, and I have to admit, I was tempted to miss the first band and sink my teeth into his delicacies instead. But I’d heard Bárujárn’s infamous video-single and read their declaration of awesomeness in these very pages, so I felt compelled to catch their whole set. I wish I’d stayed home for Gummi’s meal though. Bárujárn opened with a Twin Peak-esque cover of an older traditional Icelandic heroic men choir song “Brennið þið vitar.” The arrangements were cool and I like how it tied up with their first original song of the night.
The first half of the performance was pretty stiff but they got a wee more comfortable as the show went on.  These kids seemed to be out of their element, though, and the live show suffered for it. One of their core instruments is Theremin. Bad call; you can only take so much of the Theremin sound as it is extremely monotonous. Speaking of instruments. The bass player was pretty good, but their uninspired brand of garage/surf rock didn’t really go anywhere and it all sounded the same for the most part. The crowd waited for the band’s one hit and then everything was over. Forgettable.
Me, the Slumbering Napoleon were up next and the mood changed drastically for the better. It’s not that they play music that appeals to the masses; quite the contrary actually. But they engaged with the crowd before the set and took it from there. Their first number evoked moments of Botnleðja and The Jesus Lizard. Nice. And then it was their familiar and successfully potent mix of Melvins, Graveslime, Slint and playful yet awesome stop-and-go’s that, when on fire, cannot fail. In brief: they simply killed it. With their upbeat but never pretentious stage presence, they had the audience eating out of their palms. Fuck the two thousands, the 90’s is where it’s at! They announced their first release, which is available at the Havari store. Go get it.
The program for Sódóma was running late, so I left the venue to go about putting together a boat I’d been working on for the last couple of days. Then I found myself at the beginning of Casiokids show. Three things: one of them looked like my ex girlfriend, another like Mikael Åkerfeldt (of Opeth ) and there were three million people there, including every male and female model of the world worth their salt, with hipsters swarming the place like flies around shit. I also spied a guy from Hveragerði. But, soon I had to bounce to catch Bob Justman’s set.
When I showed up, he had started without me. I caught him covering KK’s “When I Think of Angels” a couple of times. The rest of his set was the kind of one man and acoustic guitar kinda stuff that you find in American indie documentaries about people that are special and don’t fit in the small town that raised them. Add some bluesy elements to it and a dash of Southern twang and you have B.J. He also had that whole ‘I’m tired-I-just-woke-up-I might –fall-asleep-anytime-soon’ thing down to a tee. People like that. I don’t. Not at a show. I’d rather play a cassette of him with my dog next to me in the dead of winter. Sleepy Bob forgot some songs, swooned people and probably went home with the hottest babe only to take a couple of deep puffs and pass out on his couch. Just sayin’.
It’s a popular pastime amongst Icelandic know-it-alls and the alternative music elite to rip on Dikta. Their alleged crime is being too safe, conventional, listenable and capable sounding, much like Coldplay, Keane and Muse. And the fact that they know what they are doing at all times is a big no-no.  In a particular context, that scrutiny is warranted but most of it, and surely the loudest haters, are just plain jealous of the fact that the band can pen and release songs that people actually remember and enjoy in the comfort of their homes. And Dikta’s professional and ambitious conduct makes the drugged out and lazy indie dillholes feel inferior and insecure, add the fact most of them cannot seem to get their act together for anything but the mighty Airwaves. as they feel obliged to be presentable and rad for the press and foreigners. Fuck that. Dikta is consistent and constant. They have been at it for forever it seem,  and they’ve got the songs and experience to back it up.
That said, Dikta have, on pretty much all occasions, struck me as a deer caught in headlights when it comes to live shows. They never really took off and that’s why I haven’t been intrigued to check them out live for the longest time. They’ve always made me rather want to be present in their practice space for commendable performances and additional nerdery.
But tonight, Dikta finally soared. The first couple of tracks were a bit iffy at times but then it was a slam-dunk performance after slam-dunk performance. Something happened between them and the crowd that night which made it a pleasure to witness. One doesn’t realize how many hits Dikta has under their belts until they play a short set like this one. I’m glad I was there.
If hating on Reykjavík! was an Olympic sport, I’d try my hardest, train, try, and train some more to be the best in that particular event. But it is impossible. Due to some technical problems, their set was delayed a bit but the band was onstage anyway and got the crowd singing Icelandic kindergarten songs and “Happy Birthday”, just because they can and they like silly fun. Thus started the most fun set of the night. Sure, this wasn’t the bands best musical moment, in fact, they fucked up quite a bit, but to these guys, fucking up comes just as natural as partying, so it never really hurts their set. They roll with it unlike anybody I’ve seen.
Few bands can make pretty much anybody and their bitter aunt crave being in the band and the audience at the same time for that matter. Reykjavik! accomplish this, like it is second nature. Their gig was like a carnival or a parade down a narrow street. It pulls you in, even if you are trying to hide from it. Again, as with all shows I’ve seen with the band, the most strikingly normal looking normies are raving on the phone, calling their friends after the fact “Hey man! Yeah… I know you don’t know them but they are the best live band in this city!” Reykjavik! exudes enthusiasm for their own music no matter the circumstances, and there’s something genuine about that that wins me over. There’s a difference between being real and pretending. R! is for real.
Only thing that sucked about their set was the cluster of annoying photographers. It was awkward and over-whelming. Didn’t really fit the bands’ punk swagger. But this is not the bands’ fault. I wish those lardbutt photographers had stayed for Crystal Antlers. The first half of their set was so energetic and crazy, to the point I needed something to hold on to. It was almost too much. I was longing for more music in their music, and they were beating people over the head like nobody’s business and when I was just about to give up, I realized that this was a part of their carefully calculated plan of owning the audience’s ass.  I was afraid they wouldn’t pull this off, but their set got progressively trippier and groovier which made the entirety of it feel and sound even better. The whole thing made perfect sense. So clever.
Crystal Antlers are up there with Reykjavik! in terms of looking like they like their music so much they might just collapse and die any minute. I loved it. And the fact that the lead vocalist sounded like the one from On The Might Of Princes made my night.
Being young, local and still a relatively new band, I did not envy Sudden Weather Change predicament of following what had just gone down. But they soldiered through the opposition and delivered the best performance I’ve seen them give. At this stage in their career they’ve become extremely comfortable as a live unit and it gives of this weird, sensual yet all encompassing energy that is hard to say no to when they get of the ground. I was afraid the venue would be emptyish at this time, as it was very late, but a bunch of people stayed for SWC and a healthy number of them got swept away by the band’s no-so-original but well honed Sonic Youth / Unwound mish-mash. It says a lot about the bands appeal and success. They played two new songs. The first one was heavy, slow and catchy as hell. I’m happy for these guys. Watch this space.
Æla lost me at hello and by the third song I couldn’t really take it anymore. I like punk and the new wave that followed and that is what these guys are getting at but in the most Icelandic way you could imagine – Icelandic 80s punk/new wave with nonsense lyrics repeated over and over again by an animated frontman that was pretty fun to watch for a while. But the music is not very good and unmemorable. It is stagey and seems to have no purpose or substance. Not to mention the long and awkward pauses between songs and the fact it was late. Fuck, I was in no mood for this.
Additional things worthy of mention:
A guy wearing a Philadelphia Flyers hoodie.
Grapevine’s photographer being stoked on my penis.
A grown woman having a fit and lashing out at teenagers at Hlöllabátar.
I saw and walked down a street I didn’t know existed.
The under aged kid that came out of the closet on stage during Reykjavik’s set.

Photo by: Ægir Freyr Birgisson

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