Hello, Airwaves. Having arrived at the festival a day late thanks to a certain big storm on America’s East Coast, I was treated to an evening of mostly homegrown talent at Amsterdam. Like a lot of Icelandic bands I’ve seen, these ones threw themselves into a grab-bag of guitar-rock styles without much apparent archness or irony. That approach can have its charms. None of these six acts was great, but none made me want to flee into Iceland’s own hurricane-strength winds, either.
Oyama have apparently taken cues from old-school college-rock leading lights like Ride, My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth without sounding too much like any of those bands. The young female singer has also inherited the shoegaze tradition of moving around as little as humanly possible; at one point, she gazed ahead, almost dead-eyed, while her bandmates thrashed about. The effect could be a bit eerie; at times, when her dulcet deadpan tones blended with those of the asymmetrically-hairstyled male co-singer, it could also be pretty. Playing to a three-quarters full club, the band finished with “The Garden” — not the Guns N’ Roses song, but (so I assumed) an original built around a pounding ostinato groove. In the audience, head-nodding was moderate.
Love and Fog looked roughly like a team-up of a professor and a lumberjack: a skinny, bespectacled fellow on acoustic guitar joined by a beefier, hirsute guy on bass. Both sang, backed by loops full of vaguely New Wave pulsations. There was more love than fog: The songs were earnest; one was a sort of emotional battle hymn about picking up pieces of a broken heart and bidding shame adieu.
My brother noted that every song by Gang Related — scrubbed-clean guys who’ve internalized the pop-wise whine of American bands like Weezer — seemed to be written by a dude about to break up with his girl, in the midst of a breakup, or recovering from one. The band wrapped that heartache in harmonies; even better, they mixed tight professionalism with a welcome whiff of gruff, garage-y propulsion, rocking as well as aching.
The sole international act on the bill, Denmark’s The Foreign Resort were black-clad warriors who mixed a driving synth-rock wall-of-sound with near-goth gulps of pain. (Close your eyes for a moment and you’d have thought the Cure’s Robert Smith had slid into Reykjavík on a fresh wave of despair.) The singer’s cheerful between-song banter belied the emotional spills of tunes like “Breaking Apart.” The band had their shit together; I assumed they’d been doing this for a while. They pounded away confidently and closed with a throbbing, quasi-industrial assault. “This one you can really dance to,” the singer said. (Truth in advertising, though outside of one air-drumming bearded fellow who’d have been more in place at an Allman Brothers gig, no one in the crowd moved much.) Name of song: “Flushed.”
The power trio Noise are fronted by a singer whose serrated yowl and penchant for Nirvana-heavy chords (not to mention his skinny frame, dirty blond hair and open flannel shirt) made it seem he’d spent some time worshipping at the Temple of Kurt. Their riff ’n’ yowl attack was long on big half-time choruses and lightning bolt guitar solos. Simple, full of heart, workmanlike.
Amsterdam was near-full for Muck, a young hardcore band who worked up a controlled chaos of Cookie Monster growls and speed-y thrash. Outside on the cold pavement, a group of friends peeked inside the venue, caught the vibe, then commenced to pretend to beat the shit out each other. It got rowdy indoors, too: screaming, hair-flailing, mosh pit. Muck seemed well-rehearsed, with a drummer who spent whole songs doing eight-armed fills but always hit every full-stop. The folks in the back of the bar looked a little bemused; but up front, where dudes lurched back and forth and good-naturedly shoved each other round, a time-honored ritual played out: hair-flailing hard-rock catharsis achieved by sweaty young men.
Joel Hoard contributed to this review.