Words unfold, familiar to me echo from afar

Árstíðir – W2 Poppodium, s’Hertogenbosch; January 19th, 2019

Sometimes, when I really look forward to something I walk away disappointed, because my expectations are too unrealistic to be met. And with my favorite bands I have the tendency to expect more of them than I would from others. So I was really nervous about Árstíðir’s first Nivalis concert. After all they had not done a proper album tour since 2016 and I’d been waiting for this one for seven months. After the wonderful Christmas tour the band had just finished in December I should have known everything would be fine. Yet there I stood, trying hard to keep my expectations low and hoping for the best. After the show I felt really silly for worrying. Not only did they deliver, they managed to surprise me several times over and had me smiling through the whole concert. 😀

This was my third concert in den Bosch, but i think I’ve never gone there from Dortmund before. It was surprisingly easy and since my hotel was 100 m from the venue I could nicely relax before the show. Wasn’t quite sure where the entrance was and learned it had been moved since last time I was there. Still managed to be the first one at the door. Soon a few more people showed up, some of them familiar. They even let us in early and we had a chance to look at the new merch before the doors to the actual venue opened. I could not remember if they had played there or at the bigger hall last time. It was a small room with a small stage so I immediately decided to give my camera a rest and enjoy the concert without it. I had a good feeling about this.

As they walked on stage there was still music playing. They got their stuff sorted, exchanged a few looks and started the moment it was turned down. Like the album the show started with ‘While this Way’. It is a great opener and I instantly noticed how good the sound was. It made me smile and I felt all was going to be OK. Tried to catch Gunnar’s eye because he’s once told me that when he sees me smile he usually knows it’s a good show. He looked anywhere but my direction though. 🙂

‘Lover’ was next and I loved having that back on the setlist. It was a good version too and I nodded to Ragnar indicating this was going well. They kept the album’s order of songs with ‘Please help me’ and for a moment it made me think they might play the whole album through. Of course that didn’t happen. Ragnar said that even though it was the Nivalis tour they’d play a few other songs too and now it was time for ‘Ljóð í sand’. It’s one of the songs they have to play to make the crowd happy and it did. The audience loved it. 🙂

The guys didn’t talk so much that night, a lot less than they had on the Christmas tour. The first few gigs are for trying out things though. They might get more talkative as the tour goes along or change other stuff. So far I was happy and I’ll see what will happen soon enough. ‘Vetur að vori’ came as a surprise to me. They had not played it in a long time and when we talked about it after the show I was sure they’ve never had it as a fixed part in the setlist, but always as a one-off sort of song. It worked well. When the moment of silence arrived during the song I remembered Ragnar talking about how he likes using silence as part of his songs.

‘In the Wake of you’, one of my favorites made me smile even more than I already was. This show was shaping up to a brilliant one already. 😀 In Mute I heard lines I’d never really noticed before and they fit. I might not have been appreciating that song enough. Somewhere during this first half of the show they asked us if we knew what nivalis meant and someone said “snow”.  Apparently “like snow” is right and it is a Latin term used for plants and animals that live in the North. We also learned that they had even considered it as a band name once. Would certainly have been easier to pronounce. 😉

The show was wonderful so far and I didn’t have any doubts I was going to love the rest of it too. As I felt more relaxed they guys seemed more relaxed in turn and seemed to be really into it by now. I did my best to show them it was going well and hoped the message got through. They joked about their unpronounceable Icelandic song titles with ‘Þar sem enginn fer’. That is such a great song and especially the cello and violin are amazing here. Too bad I did not see much of Jean-Samuel that night, because he was almost always blocked by Gunnar from where I stood. Had a great view of Guillaume though. All of the guys were playing their hearts out and ended the first set with a bang by playing ‘Shades’ there. That came unexpected and I really liked it at that point in the show. From then on I was wondering what the final song would be. Let’s just say both of my theories proved wrong. 😀

Set two started acoustically with just Daníel, Gunnar and Ragnar singing into one microphone. As Gunnar explained this was how they started and how they liked to do their older songs. First was ‘Sunday Morning’ and I wanted to hug them for playing it. <3 I’ve always loved the song and it keeps coming back to me at times of doubt. I sang along with all of my heart. After they had asked about it on Facebook, I expected the guys to play ‘Kill us’ but I never would have thought they’d do so as part of the acoustic set. I’ve heard the song in many incarnations and loved most, but this one was truly special. <3

“Now we’re gonna do something we’ve never done before” they told us, meaning they’d play a song they not yet played live. It was ‘Like Snow’ and it was beautiful. On the album it is a song that has not yet fully grown on me, but hearing it live was wonderful. I need to give it a few more listens. ‘Entangled’ followed together with an explanation of what quantum entsentanglement is and how it just might apply to human being too and not only to particles. This song has a special place in my heart and not only because it reminds me of the people I’ve become entangled with over the years.

One more unpronounceable Icelandic song with ‘Friðþægingin’ followed. I had thought that if they played it it at all it would be the last one in the set, but it wasn’t. It rocked too. 🙂 When ‘Himinhvel’ was next I noticed just how many Icelandic songs were on the setlist that night. Maybe to balance out the fact that there is only one of them on Nivalis. Either way, it worked well. Having songs in two languages is a big part of the band at it makes me happy to see and hear that reflected in the setlist.

After a great rendition of ‘Things you said’ Gunnar told us it was time for the last song snd people yelled “Nooo!” That reaction made everyone smile. The final song was yet another surprise. They chose ‘Passion’ and it fit perfectly. It was totally unexpected, but being the last song of the album it made a lot of sense. The setlist was great overall. I loved how it flowed.

For the first encore only Daníel, Gunnar and Ragnar were back on stage and chose ‘Jólabæn einstæðingsins’, asking us not to tell anyone it was a Christmas song. They performed it beautifully. Then Guillaume and Jean-Samuel joined them one last time for ‘Nú gleymist ég’. There could not have been a better final song for me. What a great show that was.

They had real, i.e. handwritten, setlists for once and I managed to steal Ragnar’s, but what really made me smile was that Daníel grabbed his and took it with him when he walked off stage. 😀 For the acoustic part it only said “trio” so I am thinking they might play different songs in this spot later on the tour. It said “a cappella” too, but the guys had mentioned they were not ready for that yet.

After the show I talked to all of them and learned some interesting things about upcoming shows from Gunnar. He also mentioned how nervous he had been and wanted to know how the new songs had worked. I told him I’d loved it. Spent quite some time talking to Guillaume and Jean-Samuel as well, got lots of hugs and happily returned to my hotel, looking forward to the next show.

Setlist

While this Way
Lover
Please Help me
Ljóð í sand
Vetur að vori
In the Wake of You
Mute
Þar sem enginn fer
Shades

acoustic set:
Sunday Morning
Kill Us

Like Snow
Entangled
Friðþægingin
Himinhvel
Things You Said
Passion

Jólabæn einstæðingsins
Nú gleymist ég

Nivalis winter tour: 1 gig down, 12 to go. Next stop: Leiden

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Memories, magic and beautiful melodies

Árstíðir – Fríkirkjan, Reykjavík; December 30th, 2018

Árstíðir Christmas annual Christmas concert in Reykjavík is always something special that I look forward to for most of the year. Just gathering with others in that church during the quiet time of the year and leaving all my worries outside for a while always makes me happy and the atmosphere of the place always draws me in. I had missed the show last year and I was glad to be in attendance this time around. It was beautiful and a good end to this concert year.

Since 2013 it has been my personal tradition to attend Árstíðir’s yearly Christmas concert at Fríkirkjan in Reykjavík. Also since then I have booked my hotel and flights in the spring, because the Christmas concert always happens on December 23rd. Only this year it didn’t. When they announced their European Chrismas tour I feared it might not happen at all, but luckily they did not want to cancel it completely. Thus, it was moved to December 30th. It was already mid-November when I found out about it, so I had to rebook everything short notice. new year’s eve in Reykjavik? Sure, great idea, if only there had been any afordable place to stay. Even for a simple hostel bed in a dorm the price was outrageous. So in the end I opted for leaving on the day after the concert.

Reykjavik greeted me with rain and the weather didn’t change much the entire time I was there. Instead of the snow I’d been hoping for it was grey and wet the entire time. Thus, I spent a lot of time inside, catching up on my blog and editing pictures. Went swimming too – there is nothing more relaxing than sitting in a hot tub while looking up at stormy skies. 🙂 All day I was looking forward to the evening’s concert, convinced it would be like I remembered them with a special guest or two and songs that do not get played on the road.

Arrived at the church much too early and left again when I realized the door opened 30 minutes later than I had thought they would. Waited, was happy when the rain stopped, met up with J. and her friends and spent some time chatting with Ragnar’s dad before the doors opened and they let us in. Walked straight to the front and sat on the first pew to the right. It is the seat I always take at Fríkirkjan, even though I usually sit or stand on the left at Árstíðir concerts. Like coming here it is a tradition of sorts, because it was the seat I sat in at my very first Christmas gig. Excitedly I talked to J. about how I hoped they would do something special. After all the Christmas tour they had just finished was supposedly a “best of” of all their former Christmas concerts, so surely this one would be different.

The church filled quickly and as soon as it went dark, I turned around, expecting the guys to show up either upstairs or in the center of the room to sing the first song. They’d done this before and the acoustics in this church are so good that they can sing without a microphone. It is exactly what happened. They stood next to the mixing desk for ‘Schedryk’ and it was beautiful. No other place I’ve seen them perform on this tour sounds quite like this. 🙂 Frikirkjan as such makes anyone sound good, but whenever Árstíðir play there they also have Styrmir, their brilliant sound engineer, who knows their music inside out and balances everything perfectly. It’s a shame they cannot afford to take him on the road.

They stepped on stage and greeted us, the supposedly told us what this show was all about. At least I assume it was a similar introduction to what they did on the road only that it was in Icelandic this time. Picking up baritone guitar, guitar and the guitarlele, they gathered around the microphone at the center and performed a beautiful rendition of ages. Strangely enough it feels totally natural to see Ragnar with the baritone, even though he has been playing the piano for about six of the seven years I have known this band. It only surprises me when he hasn’t picked it up in a while. Gunnar told us the story of ‘Með hallandi höfði’ and they gathered around the microphone again to play it for us. I like this semi-acoustic set. It works really well and I love the songs they play here. 🙂 

Before the guys walked on stage I’d seen Daníel’s setlist on the floor. The same one he’d had in Maastricht. It put a big smile on my face knowing that he’d remembered to bring it for me. Of course that was an indication they’d play the same show they had on the road, but they had diverted from it before and at this point I was still hoping to hear at least one different song. Ever since they’d performed it at Castlefest I wanted to hear ‘Conviction’ again and right then and there would have been the perfect place to play it. Sadly they didn’t.

Ragnar asked they old friends on stage Viktor Orri Árnason on the violin and Hallgrímur Jónas Jensson on the cello. Seeing them instantly made me happy again. I love to hear them play and seeing them on stage added to the “just like the old days” feeling, because not only had Hallgrímur been part of the band when I first saw them, but at my very first gig, Victor had played with them too. If I recall correctly he is a member of Hjaltalin. They continued with ‘Ljoð í sand ‘ and ‘Someone who cares’. Both songs, even though from different albums and really different eras of the band fit together seamlessly. I think it’s the string parts that tie them together across different soundscapes. To me the strings are a huge part of the recognizable sound of the band, but it’s everything coming together that makes them, from harmony singing and memorable piano melodies to guitar picking, soundboard effects I cannot name and lately drums. All this makes up the ever-changing sound of the band that is still so much their own unique sound that they are easily to distinguish from any other band.

Next, Gunnar spoke about their first every Christmas concert or I believe he did, because he mentioned Svavar Knútur and he played piano with them then. Back then, ten years ago they had played ‘Scarborough Fair’, so it was only fitting to bring it back for the tenth anniversary. I can never get enough of this song anyway. Generally I want to hear their own songs, but a great cover like this is always welcome. It doesn’t hurt that I love the song anyway. ‘Passion’ came without introduction and I remembered the first time I had heard it at this very church almost exactly two years ago. 🙂 

For ‘Jólabæn einstæðingsins’ Hallgrímur joined the other three, needing a lyrics sheet, because he had not been performing the song over and over in the past weeks. Hearing him sing again made me happy. I’ve always loved his voice. ‘Þar sem enginn fer ‘ was awesome and ‘While this way’ always is. I really loved the drums on both songs and even having them come from the soundboard works well. When ‘While this way’ started J. whispered to me how she’d been waiting for this song. Me too, always! I wondered if they’d take a break, but they’d never done sit at this concert before and they did not.

Victor remained seated, but Hallgrímur joined the others again for ‘Hátið fer að höndum ein’ and ‘Góda veslu göra skal’. For the latter, Gunnar even did the “Let’s party” introduction telling us that’s what it is translated to. It was the first time in a long while they did not play this song as the very last one in the set. Just as they started singing a plane was flying above our heads and made Daníel look up. When they introduced ‘Mute’, people really laughed about something, but I could not figure out what it was. It might have been that Ragnar said something about having trouble with his in-ears because the cable got tangled up in his hair. Could have been something entirely different tough. 😉

By then I was no longer thinking about them making changes to the setlist or having a special guest, because I was fully drawn into the show. There is something special about this church and the concerts played there that I cannot escape. I just cannot resist its magic and I didn’t try very hard either. After all, I was hear to enjoy the last concert of the year and I did. Despite having heard these songs in pretty much the same order a few times already, I still loved them and cannot deny that the setlist works well the way it is, so not changing it makes perfect sense. It also had many of my favorite songs, so it made me happy every time. 

So many positive feeling are connected to ‘Entangled’ for me already and it’s only going to get more. 🙂 The band has managed to capture my emotions from the start and with every album they bring new songs I fall in love with. <3    ‘You again’ brought some happy memories too and when Daníel talked about Toppstöðin before ‘Things you said’, I smiled because I’ve been lucky enough to see it and breathe the atmosphere of this place. It seems to hum with positive energy and all the old machinery with loads of buttons to pus and nobs to turn can sure inspire the imagination. The string players got some extra applause for their great work in the song.

‘Nú gleymist ég’ again brought a seemingly funny story I could not figure out and wished I understood. They usually do not talk much before this song, but who knows, maybe the story had nothing to do with the song at all. It is always a highlight for me and hearing it in this setting made me very happy. Then it was already time for the final song, ‘Shades’ as Daníel announced, telling us about people reacting with “ooohhhh” to that announcement. The guys rocked out and the song ended to great cheers.

They walked off, only to come right back for ‘Heyr hymna smiður’, which was lovely. Until it ended I had been convinced they would play ‘Heims um bol’ as the very last song, because they had done that at all other Christmas shows at Fríkirkjan. I was wrong, they ended the show there and I have to admit it felt a little bit incomplete this way.  I loved it though and was happy I’d made the track to Reykjavik. 😀

As soon as they were gone I snatched Daníel setlist just to make sure nobody else took it before I did. When I spoke to him later he said he was planning to give it to me. Of course he did, I was just making sure and thanked him for remembering. <3 Talked to Gunnar about tour plans for a while and learned that I knew more about the upcoming concerts than he did. It always seems strange to me that they are not informed about where they play, but that seems to be the way it is. I told him I had hoped for a change in setlist and he said they felt it was good and had not wanted to change it. That’s understandable, especially because they had only one day to practice with the strings. Spoke to Ragnar and learned that he’d been sick for the past week, but was luckily feeling better now. Eventually I said goodbye to all of them and ended up going for a drink with K. and D. before returning to my hostel.

On the way home the next day I considered if the concert had still been special enough to travel to Reykjavik for and realized despite the same songs being played as on the previous tour there is still some magic there that I cannot find anywhere else. Sure, I would have loved to hear different songs and see other people on stage, but in the end it is not so much about the songs the play, but more about the place they play them at and the memories it is by now connected to. I love my Christmas tradition and I’m sure I will keep honoring it for years to come. 🙂

pictures of this concert

Setlist

Schedryk schedryk (Carol of the bells)
Ages
Með hallandi höfði
Ljoð í sand
Someone who cares
Scarborough Fair / Canticle
Passion
Jólabæn einstæðingsins
Þar sem enginn fer
While this Way
Hátið fer að höndum ein
Góda veslu göra skal
Mute
Entangled
You again
Things you said
Nú gleymist ég
Shades

Heyr hymna smiður  

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