The storm that battered Reykjavik on Friday claimed its fair share of victims – the roof to a downtown building, one person’s bike this reviewer saw whipped over a sea wall – but it’s not about to claim another in gothic gloomsters Myrká who take to the stage at Amsterdam on Saturday despite two of their four members being grounded in another city. Singer Guðný Lára Gunnarsdóttir and keyboard player Stefán Örn Viðarsson soldier on together to a backing track of their usual fuzzy guitars and powerhouse percussion, their angsty alchemy of ’70s prog and thunderclap guitars blasted out with gusto through a laptop. Credit where it’s due for performing under the circumstances (“uhh, let’s see how this goes” a nervous Stefán says as they begin) but their presence on stage is as wooden as Amsterdam’s oak flooring, their sound a mess of cringe metal tropes – double bass pedal drums thunder over wailed vocals, spooky wind noises and tumbling organ solos. Points for effort, but not much else.
“My name is Benjamin, and I love you all,” begins the Faroe Islands singer up next, who looks a little like Eddie Vedder and shares the Pearl Jam man’s grungey sneer. There’s a pronounced pop-rock sheen to his songs though, with fun synth flourishes and sparky guitars to rival Vampire Weekend. “We only landed last night. It was a bumpy ride,” he says between songs, having also been affected by the biblical weather of the last few days, but his set is pure plain sailing and lapped up accordingly. He loves us all, he told us in the audience at the start of the set – by the end the feeling is more than mutual.
There’s a reason why Þórir Georg is considered a cult icon in Iceland’s thriving alternative scene – and he shows it to an expectant Amsterdam crowd tonight. His brand of delicate campfire folk is mesmerising in its simplicity, like a slower, more rustic Neutral Milk Hotel. Singing in Icelandic and English, the gently bearded one is poetic in both, delivering his songs with a tender, wounded rasp, with his audience entranced. There’s an argument to be made that his songs are a touch one-paced, but it’s hard to shake the palpable sense that we’re watching a legend in the making as his set glides towards conclusion. Breathtaking.
“I feel a bit, err, wing-broken,”slurs Æla’s singer Hallis as his band take to the Amsterdam stage, each swigging beers like there’s no tomorrow. “Like I have a broken wing. Does that make sense in English?” It doesn’t, but the rapturous reception his band receives makes sense in any language. The shaggy frontman begins suited and booted looking like a high school stoner en route to prom, but gradually sheds his clothes as they administer their off-kilter punk to a delighted crowd, with echoes of Iceage and Dischord favourites Q And Not U. By the end, he’s in a dress, stood on the bar – but for all their theatrics, the real story is their music. Fiercely inventive, their biting guitars and stop-start rhythms are a total thrill, and as original a sound as you’re likely to encounter at Airwaves all weekend, never mind the gimmicks.
By Al Horner
I arrived early for my shift since I actually wanted to see most of the bands playing this venue tonight, particularly Þórir Georg and Æla, the latter of which I saw right here back in 2006 on my first visit to Iceland. They were awesome then, they are awesome now. I may have joined along with their boozy showmanship more than I should have. Oh well. Between Þórir’s tenderness and all this nostalgia spinning through my head, I was feeling pretty affectionate so as bands proceeded to take the stage I proceeded to write them love letters in my mind. Here goes.
Dear Technical Kidman,
I would like to write this to you in French but my editors can’t proof it – please mind-translate this into our very own jaunty jouale. I was down on Montreal’s music scene for years before I moved away and now that I have it seems that everything coming out of there is ridiculously innovative, outstandingly performative and just generally fun and delightful. I was shocked at how empty this place got but at least you were cozily surrounded by your local brethren, basking and delighting in your twitches and nasal growls and Canadian tuxedo. You are some wonderful weirdos, tabarnac.
Let’s be honest guys, this is a conflict of interest – I’m an avowed fan AND I am actually friends with some of you. You know why I’m a fan though? Because fast, upbeat punk rock should never, nay, WILL NEVER go out of style. “Style” might not be the right word… you know what I mean! There is just something so comforting and wholesome about standard guitar-bass-drum-vocal rock, no frills or fancy tricks, just good playing and nice stage banter. I also appreciate the attempt to be humorous in English for the Airwaves crowd since jokes are really the hardest thing to translate from culture to culture. I don’t think that dude got what you meant by “it’s about putting a woman in a cage… but from a feminist’s perspective!”
So here’s what I learned from watching your performance – Amsterdam needs some wait service for the bands! Your singer was just racing through beers and kept going back to the bar, like no one could make it the 10 feet to the stage with a beer. Like the guy in the four-thousand dollar suit has to get his own beer. Come on! But seriously, how many times did he head to the bar? Are you, like Æla, one of those bands that only rarely plays and only does so completely off your tits? It really worked. There were a lot of people off their tits in there and they were bouncing and swirling about like it was nobody’s business. Your Balkan pub-punk really makes me miss Gogol Bordello. Sigh.
Dear Sindri Eldon & The Ways,
You have arrived. How else can I put it? Your closing set last night was a see-and-be-scene event packed with everyone and their mom and your mom and the singer from Dirty Projectors and for good reason too. Speaking of good wholesome guitar-bass-drums-vocal rock, you delivered it in droves. Those songs were written like beautiful modernist buildings – structurally impeccable, highly functional in design and embellished with linear, logical precision. Except this was one beautiful modernist building one could rock the fuck out to. And rock out we did! If this is what we can expect from you now that you’ve officially put down your musical pen and picked up your guitar for good, you will be hearing no complaints from this woman. Just keep on rocking forever, and ever, and ever, and ever…
By Rebecca Louder