When I arrived at Hressó, the look of the places was slightly ominous and unwelcoming if I’m being honest. There was hardly anyone there, the place was bloody freezing, and an off-venue band was already setting up to play in the bar (where they would be torturing the clientele with some Jeff Buckley influenced tormented indie jangles). The general vibe of cold loneliness and despondency was hammered home with the sounds of the king of gothic gloom, Nick Cave, drifting over the PA. I could see through the windows past the stage into the sports bar next door and it looked rather warm and inviting.
But when the first band started playing, a smattering of people did start to fill the venue a little. LOVE AND FOG are essentially a double act of power pop supremo Jón Þór on acoustic guitar, and top producer guy Flex Árnason on bass, joined this evening by a nice woman on synth and drum machines. Their first song in their set was slightly booming and portentous, a bit like Death In June-lite with its dirge-y, gothic post punk inflections. But they immediately turned the frown around into a happy face with the second song. And from there on, LOVE AND FOG played a set of ’80s infused new wave pop that had a plodding pace and tone to it, kind of like Talking Heads on a real downer (Imagine slipping some lithium into David Byrne’s tea). Overall it was OK to listen to (there was this rather catchy MOR pop song in the key C that that i didn’t get the name of), but I did find the playing and energy levels a bit flat and one dimensional. They did try to augment some songs with a bit of floor tom action, but the drum machine rhythms seemed ponderous and full of cheesy electronic tom tom sounds. Perhaps it will all sound better when their debut album eventually comes out.
Energy is something that you couldn’t say HELLVAR lacked. Mind you this wasn’t too hard. They just understood that to create a bit of noise, all they needed was a drummer who seemed ready to kick the fuck out of his drums, and to employ what seemed like 27 guitarists on stage. It was the first moment of the night I had to whip out the trusty old ear plugs.
There’s a certain amount of comfort and familiarity with HELLVAR for me (This is the third time I’ve ended up reviewing them at Airwaves), and their set of ’90s style post-grunge rock was at once both recognisable and welcoming, playing classics from their canon such as “Ding an Sich,” “Anna Amma,” and “Falsetto” (AKA their T.A.T.U song). On stage they seemed brilliant gawky, but totally into what they were doing, especially singer Heiða, all decked out in her melted Halloween make up. They did premiere some new music, one track in particular having a really brawny and propulsive rhythm section. The small but hardcore group of fans (Hellvar-ettes? Hellvar-ites?) down at the front loved it.
You know, these days I’ve become a bit of a believer in synchronicity, or at the very least the sometimes uncanny sense of timing of small events. I hadn’t paid much thought at all to JAN MAYEN for a least a couple of years now, until last week when on a whim, I fished out their last album, ‘So Much Better Than Your Normal Life,’ and was immediately reminded by their scrappy, scuzzy, but ever so catchy indie rock. And now a week later, I’m standing watching them perform some of those very same songs, with them proud in the knowledge that when it comes to Iceland’s current crop of dude-bro indie rock, they are still the god damn Daddies! They alas didn’t perform my all-time favourite song of theirs, “Let It Burn” (the gits), but they did wheel in a mix of old tunes such as “B.e.s.,” and “Shut Up-Down,” with some new material. One of the new tracks, with its galloping drums and rumbling bursts of bass seemed to make me think of the intro to Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains The Same,” for some inexplicable reason.
It’s kind of hard to describe what it is about JAN MAYEN that makes them so good, but they seem to be able to mix having a completely geeky demeanour on stage with a nonchalant swagger by the way they raised their guitar axes in semi-serious poses. I found myself nodding furiously to their songs and thoroughly enjoying it, my joints becoming warmer and less creaky. Lovely.
By now Hressó is now looking rather full, with many people here to have their frontal lobes smashed by Norwegian psych rockers ELECTRIC EYE. And they opened with a deliciously brutal assault on the ears, a blend of white noise and bass blasts put through a shitload of echo and reverb effects, before laying into a vigorous rock workout. Their take on psychedelia is of a hard-edged, brooding, utilitarian form, all heads down and pounding away around muscular monoriffs. There was a fair bit of glowering and seriousness drawn on their faces (I’m sure though that they are lovely people to talk to off stage). It was music designed to batter and subdue you into submission, rather than entice and draw you in. But while I would say that it didn’t completely blow me away, their music was definitely effective in working the crowd as there was a fair amount of swaying and ganja-infused head bobbing (where I was standing, the sticky sweet smell was really pungent). When they did change the dynamic and level of attack, as they did on the song “Electric Eye,” that was when I found them at the most interesting. The drummer replacing his sticks with brushes, electric piano keys that glistened, while the guitar shimmered in the night lights. This was a track that opened up and was allowed to breathe naturally, which made it all the more enjoyable for me.
Alas when BÁRUJÁRN set up to play, the vast majority of the audience had completely disappeared (perhaps they all decided to go and see #YOLO La Tengo, Metz, or something else that had all the feels). And that’s a crying shame because BÁRUJÁRN’s Dick Dale on uppers surf punk tunes have never sounded better. All tightly coiled up and twitching furiously, the tiny but appreciative audience lapped it up. What amazed me though was that despite seeing this band numerous times, tonight was the first time when I truly appreciated how utterly seedy they came across on stage. You’ve got the mistress of spook Hekla on Theremin duties, secretly wishing that someone in Iceland could start making sexy R&B booty music. Then you had singer/guitarist Sindri Freyr, with his lank hair and beard, puce ruddy faced complexion, and sporting a thick arran sweater. He looked as if he’d just come from a particularly harrowing fishing expedition.
But the one who really topped it off was bass player Oddur, whose style was obviously influenced by Fieldy from Korn. With a white vest barely draped over him and with purple tinted raybans, he glided across the stage, pulling the best “fuck you gently” bassface gurns this side of Miri. And that moment when he hocked up and spat out a huge pile of gobby phlegm (complete with chunks of raw turnip) in front of the crowd, you just thought to yourself, “Man that was…. Filthy!”
When I achieve my dream of building my own Mex-Tex Style restaurant/Bordello/Meth lab and horsemeat factory, I so want these guys to be my house band!
We’re reaching towards the final stretch of this evening, and I can feel the energy levels sapping just a little bit. We need a bit of rousing music to really hammer everything home. And we got ÚTIDÚR for our troubles. Now this band have improved a lot since I last saw them live a long while ago. For a large ensemble with numerous components to their sound, there is a lot going on and the arrangements did seem well drilled and on point. In many ways, they are a bit like Dexys Midnight Runners, but instead of being into Northern soul, they’ve appropriated their sound with a ragtag of “Exotica” sources. Flamenco and Tango rhythms, Balkan beat guitar lines, and Persian/Hindi pop melodies, sometimes all in the same song.
It’s all perky and slightly jaunty, and several in the crowd are really getting into it, but I’m having a major problem drawing any enjoyment from the music, the cause being mostly down to the style and performance of the vocalists. Their styles are very much an acquired taste. Gunnar Örn has a singing voice which can be described as Kevin Rowland mixed with Noël Coward; all heavy of croon, scooping of vocals and breathing through nose. It’s a very affected style and it’s not what I’m into, but it was bearable. But he was paired with the vocals of Sólveig Anna, who had this high registered, trilling voice that set my teeth on edge. Perhaps there was some kind of problem with hearing themselves through the monitors, but there were several sung notes that for me were waaaaay off in key and that for me totally killed any enjoyment I could have had in listening to their music.
I hung in there for about six or so songs before admitting defeat, eventually leaving Hressó to mingle with the hordes of unwashed prole scum who are out on the town getting absolutely smashed celebrating Halloween. Tonight was an interesting night”s entertainment, with some bands providing a real sense of fun and welcome frolics, but I left feeling slightly frustrated that I didn’t experience a level of enjoyment of euphoria that would have truly made this a night to remember.
Oh well, onwards and upwards as they say…