Ragnar Ólafsson – La Boheme, Warsaw; June 12th, 2017
To paraphrase Sammy Hagar, I’m feeling 14 days, 14 nights are not enough! And I say that with conviction after the longest run of consecutive concerts I have ever seen. I might have been on longer tours, but not with one gig every night. It was exhilarating, it was exhausting, it was as intense as it was beautiful, it was an emotional rollercoaster, but most of all it was fun. I traveled 3476 km first to, then across Poland, saw towns I never knew existed, got sunburned and bitten by mosquitoes, got overcharged on taxis and almost lost a few times, but at the end of the day I always made it and was rewarded with amazing music. As if that were not enough, I got to hang out with my friend Ragnar as well. We shared stories, drinks, lots of hugs and memories that I’ll carry with me for years to come. Through ups and downs, including a small mid tour crisis on my side, it all came up roses and I really did not want this tour to be over. We should do this again some time.
The final show in Warsaw was one of the best. It had all the ingredients that make a concert great: an amazing venue that was packed to boot, wonderful hosts, who brought their hearts and souls to the place, an attentive, loving and appreciative audience and an amazing duet partner. All this made it amazing, but as it often happens with the truly perfect shows, there was something more, a spark between the audience and Ragnar on stage that seemed to be there from the very start, made good energy flow and created some magic. It’s impossible to grasp what exactly happened there, but everyone in the room felt the good vibes and added to them somehow so the concert became more than the sum of its parts. I never wanted it to end.
Getting to Warsaw was easy. I just hopped on a bus in the morning, then took a subway and it was a short walk to my hostel. I even managed to visit the old city briefly before going to the venue which was walking distance from my hostel. It was a cafe/gallery called “La Boheme” and it was wonderful. Art everywhere and really cozy. I got there just before soundcheck and they immediately offered tea or wine. Said hello to Bartek and Ragnar, then watched and listened. A little later K. and M. showed up and we had chat. Found some nice places in front row, got wine, watched the cafe get crowded and waited for the gig to start.
Even before it did, I knew this one was going to be great. Last shows of a tour usually have a special magic and Ragnar was in such a good mood already before the show that it just had to be good. When more and more people filed in and there hardly was room for anyone any more that made it even better. The room was buzzing with excited anticipation. At least some of the people here knew what they had come for and others just seemed to be curious and open to trying out some new music. That is always a good combination. 🙂
‘More will come along’ the song I’d never expected to hear live, has become a good friend I find hard to let go, but I know it is unlikely to be played at any Árstíðir gig. I loved it this night, loved all of the songs, maybe they felt so special because I knew this might be the last chance to hear them live for the foreseeable future. Whatever the reason, I enjoyed every second of the gig, every word spoken, every note sung. <3
Ragnar told us that heartbreak was his reason for being on this tour, because he could not deal with it in any other way than writing music and just had to make a solo album with all these songs. It was his big disclaimer. Warning: Love songs ahead! So far, no crowd ever minded that and neither did this one. As for me, I love the songs, no matter how sad they are and it still fascinates me seeing him as a Singer/ Songwriter. Sure, I’ve seen him play guitar at bars before, but this is very different from the troubadour playing cover songs. This is about real life and real emotions instead of being a human juke box, this is a lot better. 🙂 Since there was at least one guy in the room, who looked like he might like metal, there were a few words about that too before playing ‘War’.
He taught us some Icelandic too, claiming the two words we needed to know were “takk” and “umferðaröngþveiti”, but he never told us that the second one means traffic jam, but people laughed anyway. We also successfully managed to say “Eyjafjallajökull”. First he asked who knew how to do it and called on K. who managed brilliantly. 😀 The night’s guest for the duets was Kasia (not the same one as in Zabrze). She was amazing. Her interpretation might have been the one that was most her own, but it was great. I very much enjoyed hearing her sing on both songs. During soundcheck Ragnar had told her to bring her personality and do her own thing and she did. Wonderful! <3
Even though there was a keyboard, ‘Relations’ was done on the guitar, because he did not like the keyboard sound. I generally like the piano version better, but this night it was perfect just as it was. We got the sing-along right too. 🙂 During the intro to ‘Every Brick in Manhatten’ I thought for the first time that all the brick buildings had not been that significant to me. I cannot even remember ever noticing them, even though I have done my fair share of walking in Manhattan. I’m sure I will notice the next time I get there. The song, completely new to me two weeks ago, was now one I sang along to and loved dearly. The things a tour can do…
For ‘The Cannon’ Ragnar promised us the longest version of the story yet and he was true to his word, including most of the elements he had used before plus and even longer description of John, including his tattoos. 🙂 It made me smile so much, because I remembered how I first met him. The funniest part of the story, apart from the picking out the strongest gun part was the bit about Slab City where they were before going into the desert and returned to to get Ragnar’s head wound tended too. They gave him a plaster that had the picture of an eye on it so he walked around with a third eye on his forehead. 😀 He also asked us to never tell his mother about the whiskey drinking part. 😉 Later that night, after the show, K. and me heard even more of the story, but I’ll leave it at that. The song was amazing and only when M. mentioned it afterwards, I realized that I like this version better than the Árstíðir version. Maybe it’s because it was written on guitar, maybe it’s because I know much more about the song now, but either way, it feels much more powerful like this.
He joked about checking his emails on his phone (aka the setlist) and promised us a really depressing song that lead to reactions from “oooh” to “yay”. He told us the album was called ‘Urges’ and so was the title track, then added “no shit, Sherlock” and asking if he talked too much. Of course not! Like most songs on the album ‘Urges’ is depressing indeed, but beautiful as well. The words touch me every time. He toasted to human misery and then played ‘Vegetate’ to lift the spirits a bit. K. was quite happy about it. We learned that the Polish word for vegetate is similar to English (wegetować). Who doesn’t know that feeling? On the last chorus Ragnar decided to make us clap along and we did it well too. 🙂
We learned that Bartek only taught him swear words, while Magda taught him all the useful stuff. 😉 Kasia was back and rather nervous about singing ‘Petals’, but with her own way of doing it, it was perfect. She added some parts that are not in the original and that made the song come alive for her. It was great. Much better than if she’d tried staying with the original that was a bit high for her in parts. I loved hearing her bring her own personality to this.
When the last song was announced I could not believe it was that time of the night already. As much as I love hearing ‘Scar’, I learned to dread it a bit, because it means that the concert is coming to an end. Especially this night, I did not want it to end. Neither did anyone else. The answer to “It’s the part of the show where I say ‘This is the last song'” was answered by a loud “Noooo!” and also a question for the metal song that was mentioned earlier. “if you clap your hands and make noise I’ll return and play some more”. He joked that when you go to heaven you get a harp to play, bit when you go to hell they will hand you a banjo. It’s not that bad, really, you just have to know how you use it. 😉 Then again, playing it for the rest of eternity… 😀 Once again it was an amazing version of the song. I sighed and mentally counted down for a moment. Three more songs, maybe four if we got lucky. Then I pushed these thoughts aside and enjoyed, the smile back on my face.
When we clapped and cheered him back to the stage he said he would do stand up comedy now instead of singing some more. Could have been funny, but of course it was a joke and who was I kidding: It was more songs I wanted to hear, stories included of course. We got a nice long one for ‘Bravery’, Jägermeister vanilla and busking included. He said he could still taste the liquor when he plays that song. Now I finally understand why it sounds so angry. 😛 He also quoted ‘Wonderwall’ as well as The Lion King before deciding it was enough talking and treating us to a killer version of the song.
As with the last few gigs he promised us one murder ballad and then played two. Fine with me, I love ‘Where the wild Roses grow’ and after this tour I know every word of the lyrics too. 😉 It was fun as always to hear him really getting into the duet, by singing one part high and one really low. 😀 We managed a nice sing-along for the last chorus too. <3 ‘Sleep now’ of course was done walking around. It has worked well from the start and I always love watching people in the audience when he goes out and looks everyone in the eye. After telling us how creepy the song is, saying he’s a nice guy lead to chuckles. Even more so when he said the same about Nick Cave and claimed “the only difference between me and Nick Cave is twenty years and he dresses better”. Also apparently the beginning melody is like ‘Game of Thrones’. He asked us if he should check it out. I’d vote no, but everyone else seemed to think yes. M. told him there was an official boob count per episode where 50 is the highest number and he asked her to specify if that was single boobs or pairs. 😀
Despite ‘Sleep now’ being the perfect closer we would not let him go just yet. Before the show I had told K., M. and friends that people always gave up clapping too early so we didn’t and called Ragnar back to the stage. “Bravery does not take courage, it only takes foolishness” was part of the intro to the final song. He sang ‘Heyr, himna smiður’ for us and I think it was even better than the first time around. The viking story before was shorter this time, but the song was amazing. Again I was deeply impressed. <3 There could not have been a more perfect final song.
The concert ended there, the night was far from over. Many people came to talk, bought CDs, had more drinks. Eventually K., M., Ragnar and me sat in a corner and talked about music, life and language among other things. It was perfect. Eventually most people left and Bartek wanted to go as well. The four of us caught a taxi downtown, finally found an open bar (it was a Monday night after all) and stayed until daybreak. It was a lot of fun and just the end of the tour I had hoped for. Drinks among friends. M. left earlier, but K. made sure we got home safe. When I stumbled back into my hostel room at 5 am I had no regrets. What a great night!
15 days on the road, 14 concerts, 13 cities, trains and busses, lots of walking, great places, great people, amazing music and a gazillion memories. After this last show, M. told me I was radiating and I replied that I was really, really happy. I was indeed, could not have been better. Happy I had made the decision to follow this tour and especially happy with how it all came out. I will be smiling for a long time after. It does not get any better than this! 😀
What’s left to say is thank you. To Bartek and Magda for organizing this tour, to all the venues and hosts that made the concerts possible, to K. and everyone else I spent time with before and after the gigs for the great company, to the many people who helped me along the way on my travels. But most of all to Ragnar for having me, for making sure I got to attend all of the concerts, for amazing music and great stories night after night, for being calm when I freaked out, for bringing tears to my eyes and making me laugh, for surprise songs, warm hugs and countless little things that make the world. I’m deeply grateful you shared this tour with me. I love you and I’ll meet you further on up the road.
Urges tour Poland: 14 gigs down, none to go. Next stops: London / Gdynia + Gdansk / Helsinki / Vaasa / home
More will come along
Every Brick in Manhattan
Where the wild Roses grow
Heyr, himna smiður