Amsterdam is a strange venue for a music festival. It’s got slot machines in the corner and I’m sure I spotted a few very confused looking regulars that weren’t entirely sure how they felt about lots of youth making a racket in their preferred watering/gambling hole. This isn’t the place to see bands on “the circuit” but rather bands and artists who are often doing their first Airwaves show, or who don’t fit particularly well on any of the themed nights you’ll get at some of the more enjoyable venues around the city. It’s refreshing and quite a fun night out as the bands that play here are giving it their all. They’ve been rehearsing for months for this particular show and the enthusiasm is tangible.
The first band to take the stage was The Wicked Strangers and they cared a lot. A four-piece from Selfoss, that play a youthful version of dad-rock for the more musically inclined dads around. Clearly big fans of Rush and Dream Theater and probably most other Prog-Rock bands you care to namedrop, they hammered through half an hour of slick but sometimes self-indulgent time-signature changes and their “bordering-on-metal” riffs with a lot of meaning and precision. Songs about Jack Daniel’s and the likes made a strangely fitting soundtrack to this venue. I at least couldn’t help thinking The Wicked Strangers were probably quite entertaining for the otherwise pissed off regular clientele of Amsterdam.
I think Kjurr may have forgotten to bring their guitar tonight. Or at least somebody did, as they showed up on stage with an identical Gibson SG to the one The Wicked Strangers employed just before them. That’s about it in terms of comparisons though. Kjurr, meaning still or stationary, were nowhere near as motionless as the name suggests. They play the sort of dreamy indie-pop Icelanders have seen a lot of from bands like Sudden Weather Change and For A Minor Reflection, and do so with a lot of talent. Intricate drumbeats and an engaging frontman made their set dynamic and interesting enough to keep everybody’s heads bobbing along. Kjurr have only been a band for about a year and certainly feel and sound like a band still looking for their “sound”, but if tonight is anything to go by, they’re not far off.
At this point I was convinced I was going mad, as I was sure Caterpillarmen brought the same SG that had made it onto stage twice already. Thankfully though, I didn’t get enough time to construct a crazy conspiracy theory as when Caterpillarmen started they instantly demand absolute attention. By describing themselves as “a rock band” and showing up with the usual instruments people might associate with such a bland description, they tricked me into thinking that they might be an easily dismissed garage band. But I was proven very wrong very quickly. Caterpillarmen play party music that doesn’t take it self too seriously, but do so with so much conviction that it’s impossible not to pay attention. This is the band Johnny Triumph would have started had he gone on to do more things after having recorded Lúftgitar with The Sugarcubes. Heavily rooted in ’80s Icelandic post punk, but with humour I’m finding myself forced to liken to Electric Six, Caterpillarmen were brilliant. But, just in case anybody got bored of them before the end of their set,they had a twist that made this all the more impressive. Their strangely charismatic and slightly demented looking singer and their fantastic bass player swapped places halfway through the set and proved to be equally impressive in their new roles. The bass lines got better if anything and the lyrics took an absurd turn that peaks with a song about anally administered champagne capsules. Ridiculous, but yet so entertaining.
Prior to Þórir Georg‘s set I’d done a little bit of research that gave me the impression that he’s a sort of an Icelandic R. Stevie Moore. A massively productive singer-songwriter that experiments with various genres and sounds, but, as a side product of his productivity, stays firmly rooted in the Lo-Fi ethos. It was therefore quite a surprise when he rocked up with a bass player and a drummer and gave us by far the most straight up indie rock set of the night – with Pixies references and all. The fact that this hugely talented singer-songwriter opted for this by-the-numbers vehicle to deliver his otherwise well crafted songs made me think it had something to do with the venue. I for one wouldn’t have shown up at Amsterdam with an acoustic guitar and a reverb pedal. It’s a place that’s begging for loud guitars, and Þórir Georg provided exactly that.
I’m mentioning Sudden Weather Change for the second time in less than a 1000 words because the next act, Loji, was in fact a member of that now sadly defunct band. Loji doesn’t venture far from his old band’s sound and treated us to very short snippets of soundscape-y guitar pop. There’s an endearing level of nerdiness to Loji’s music and with a song about BluRay and another one written by, and dedicated to, his mum who’s sadly not in the crowd. He wasn’t put off by the lack of audience – who had mostly disappeared by now – and even tried to get them to join in on some “Rock’n’Roll”, unfortunately, I wouldn’t call it particularly exciting.
The hairiest band of the night accompanied the equally hairy closing artist Bob Justman. It was Justman’s first live appearance in five years and it showed. He spent a lot of time and energy trying to lead the band where he wanted them to go with animated hand gestures and subtle stares. This wasn’t too much of a problem though, as he was charismatic enough to carry the rest of them on his shoulders. His disengaged and disinterested demeanour gave their ’90s shoegaze sound a level of intensity only broken by very upbeat yet sincere in-between song banter. The band sounded best in their quieter songs as Justman’s baritone voice and the accompanying lap steel (!?!) – provided from Teitur of Ojba Rasta fame – got a little lost in the mix when the band got louder.