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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