Arriving early to anything in Iceland is almost taboo. If it’s a dinner party, the host may find you rude, and if it’s a concert or other party, you may very well find that you are the only one there. That’s just the way that things work here.
I was reminded of this when I walked into Iðnó five minutes before Jón Þór was scheduled to play. I ordered a beer from the bar, where staff was busy filling the fridge with booze, and then walked into the main room, which was close to empty save for a few people along the perimeter nursing their beers or playing Angry Birds or sitting on the floor. What is it about a big empty room that makes people gravitate to the perimeter?
Though it seemed unlikely to happen, the five-piece indie rock band Jón Þór hit the stage at precisely eight. That’s also telling of the way that things work here. Main man Jón Þór was sporting a green sweater, a red handkerchief, a yellow headband and a pink belt. He exuded confidence and had a flamboyant stage presence that was fun to watch. But perhaps even more fun to watch was the theremin player, an integral part of this feel-good ‘90s rock.
While waiting for the next act, I reflected on how awesome Iðnó is as a concert venue with its neoclassical décor, its spacious, yet intimate room, and its view of the pond just outside. Really, just awesome.
When Stafrænn Hákon came on I could have sworn he said, “We are Stafrænn from Finland and we’re going to play salsa songs for you.” I think I was mistaken. Stafrænn Hákon has been making post rock music for at least a decade, and the band started the set with his oldest song from 2001. They also played a brand new song called Snakes, because the band is addicted to snakes. I could have sworn that there was some Nine Inch Nails “Bow down before the one you serve” in there, but I may have been mistaken. Finally, Stafrænn finished with a song called Val Kilmer, after telling a story about a guy who tried to get a tattoo of Jim Morrison, but mistakenly brought in a copy of Oliver Stone’s The Doors and ended up with one of Val Kilmer. It ended in a spiral of loud, hectic, and painful to the ears sounds of destruction, very evocative of Jim Morrison’s downfall. With the exception of this bit, Stafræn Hákon was easy to listen to post-rock.
Following this with more post-rock, were Miri from east Iceland. This was more melodic feel-good rock. I mean, how can you not feel good when the bassist looks so stoked with that smile on his face? It’s just contagious. They’ve been playing together for a while, and you can definitely hear it. Though I’m not very familiar with Icelandic math rock, this is probably Icelandic math rock at its finest.
For their second to last song, the band called up singer songwriter Snorri Helgason who joined in with the harmonica. There is something very Icelandic about this. There seems to be a lot of camaraderie in Iceland’s creative scene with artists employing their fellow artists to jump in and do this or that. It’s pretty neat. And the combination of these artists who otherwise play such disparate music was an exciting and successful experiment.
Snorri hopped off stage and Miri played one final song. Watching the drummer in all his intensity simultaneously singing seemed akin to the difficulty of rubbing your belly and patting your head at the same time, but he had obviously mastered the task. This time the guitarist also really let loose and they finished in pure ecstasy.
Now for the series of bands under the UK label Fat Cat. First up was The Twilight Sad from Glasgow, Scotland. They came on stage clad in black, which seemed fitting with a name like that and songs like I Became A Prostitute.
The singer was really energetic—he was like the Scottish version of Bóas from the band Reykjavík!—singing with tremendous passion and intensity, wandering into the crowd, the sound guy reeling him out and back in again. These guys clearly had a following from people at Iðnó, like the guy standing next to me who took out his point and shoot camera every five minutes, zoomed way in, and attempted to capture photos in the low light. At the end of the set they made their exit before the feedback cut out. The crowd cheered and clapped, and that was that. They put on a good show.
After them came We Were Promised Jetpacks, who have a pretty awesome band name and also put on a pretty awesome gig. The venue was most packed for their show and they succeeded in getting the crowd riled up. They played hard. It was loud. There was fit pumping, dancing and moshing. Though the loud barrage of sound isn’t my cup of tea, the singer has a powerful, catchy voice, and I think it’s safe to say that they took the cake at Iðnó this evening.
By the time Mazes came on, Iðnó had emptied. That’s life at Airwaves. Like the bassist from Miri said during their show, there were so many concerts that Miri could have been at that they had to thank us for being there. Perhaps the crowd had rushed out to see Liturgy or Iceage. Who knows. Aside from getting to enjoy some more beautifully spoken English, there was nothing that really stood out about this alternative rock band. It was kind of samey all around.
While I waited for Sudden Weather Change to come on, Jónsi walked in, totally making some people’s Airwaves 2011 just absolutely WONDERFUL. But seeing Jónsi at Iðnó is a pretty typical Icelandic experience. Local celebrities aren’t mythical, untouchable figures here, and if you think about it, Reykjavík is a pretty small city.
Jónsi left, but loads of other people came in to see the headliners. The five-piece band that won Best Newcomer at the Icelandic Music Awards, are unmistakably local favourites. Having seen them before, I thought they were particularly on tonight. Answering to calls for MEIRA, they played one last song, putting every last oomph into it. Towards the end of the song, the keyboardist even went back to help the drummer out. Though he probably didn’t need to, it was very exemplifying of the kind of synergy they have on stage.
And with that an evening of rock at Iðnó was over. Not yet 3 AM, the night was young by Icelandic standards and the crowd dispersed into the night.