Stage props, acoustic songs and an interactive audience

Árstíðir – Imperial Theater, Hamburg; December 5th, 2018

The tour I’d been waiting for all year that was supposed to be in summer, then in September was finally announced for December: Árstíðir would play in Europe again. When I saw tour dates I got really excited, but that changed when I realized it was going to be Christmas tour. Don’t get me wrong, I love the yearly Christmas shows in Reykjavík and they are truly special, but that was exactly why I didn’t want them to take that show on the road. Part of the shows being special is that they happen only once every year and you have to make an effort to get there.If they become part of a regular tour, they become something usual, something like any other tour and I did not want that to happen. Most importantly though, I wanted to see a tour accompanying the current album and hear the songs from Nivalis I haven’t yet heard live and I knew that was not going to happen. So while I was looking forward to see the guys play for more than 40 minutes for a change, I went there with mixed emotions, not at all sure I’d enjoy the show. Luckily I was wrong. The band delivered a truly beautiful show, totally worth seeing and I was happy to be there.

My trip to Hamburg was uneventful and I even arrived on time. After checking in to my hostel and having an early dinner I decided to walk to the venue – 40 minutes of fresh air did me good. When I arrived I realized I had left my ticket at the hostel (talk about feeling stupid!) and returned there by subway to pick it up. Half an hour later I was back at the venue and still the first in line. Eventually G. and K. as well as I. arrived and soon they let us in. Strangely, nobody wanted to sit in front row, so I chose my spot. Said hello to Gunnar in passing and briefly talked to Ragnar, who had arranged a photo pass for me. <3 A few more people joined me at the front, but most sat down further back. The venue was a theater and generally the seats go up towards the back so you have a better view from about 5t row than from the front, but here, strangely, the floor sloped down. Anyway, it was a nice theater and the stage looked great. At the back there was a higher platform, which was where the string players would be. There were also some props to be found, like a safe and a phone on the wall, because the theater usually shows crime stories.

It was just after 8 when Daníel, Gunnar and Ragnar stepped up on said platform and started with ‘Carol of the Bells’, just a cappella, no microphones needed. The song has been a favorite of mine at the Fríkirkjan shows and instantly made me smile. It sounded beautiful and from then on I knew it was going to be good. They walked onto the main stage and Ragnar told us they’d been playing Christmas concerts for ten years and how they’d made six albums in that time and would give us a tour through their history, starting with a song they had written when they were “just three duded with guitars and big dreams, sitting on Daníel’s couch”. It was a great acoustic version of ‘Ages’ with Ragnar playing the baritone guitar and Gunnar the guitarlele.

Gunnar talked about how they had translated Crosby, Stills & Nash’s song ‘Hopelessly hoping’ to Icelandic early in their career, recorded it, but never put in on an album. It got picked up by a radio station though and was played. I’ve always loved ‘Með hallandi höfði’ and was very happy to get to hear it. 😀

They introduced Lotta on violin and Guillaume on cello, who joined them for the next songs. Ragnar talked about the black beaches in Iceland and how it is too cold to swim in the ocean, but you could sit there on the beach in warm clothes and how writing poems into black sand is more gothic than romantic. It was the first time I heard Lotta play and I liked it. ‘Ljoð í sand’ always makes people happy.

Daníel pointed out since they were in a theater, they had found props backstage and he’d taken the champagne cooler to keep his water cold. 😀
After ‘Someone who cares’ Gunnar explained how they’d been doing these concerts for some time now, but never took them on the road before. He said they play not only Christmas songs, but also songs that feel christmassy to them, like ‘Scarborough Fair’. It made the smile on my face even bigger and as usual I watched out for Daníel singing ‘Canticle’ while Gunnar and Ragnar sing ‘Scarborough Fair’, just like the Simon & Garfunkel version. It is such a beautiful song to begin with and their version is just amazing. <3

Ragnar mentioned how Icelandic music, especially traditional is very depressing and his theory that it stems from the harsh living conditions on the rock in the sea and how the reality the people sang about was full of death and how to this day even Pop songs are often played in minor keys. The writer of the next song lived isolated for 50 years, but wrote beautiful poetry and one of the poems is ‘Jólabæn einstæðingsins’ (Christmas prayer for a lonely man). It was truly beautiful.

Ragnar joked that they managed to reales two album this year because the summer in Iceland was so horrible. The summer was bad indeed, but somehow I am sure they would have released the two albums either way. ‘Passion’ seemed to have evolved since the last time I heard it. At least it sounded different to me, with subtle drums underneath. I really liked it and it felt a bit like coming home, because the first time I had heard the song was at the Christmas concert in Reykjavik two years ago.

The people sitting next to me were very expression, always commenting on the songs and now the guy said that the song went straight to the heart and was “hotter than the hottest summer in Germany”. I would not have expressed it quite that way, but OK. ‘Moonlight’ followed and it still doesn’t speak to me.

Ragnar said how they had never thought they would spend so much time outside Iceland when they started the band and how funny it is to hear announcers struggle with their band name all the time. He concluded that the title of the next song ‘Þar sem enginn fer’ was almost as difficult to pronounce. It is also one of my favorite songs and was delivered perfectly. 🙂 Gunnar announce done last song before the break and they ended the first set with another one of my favorites, ‘While this Way’. So I left for the break with a happy sigh. <3

For the start of the second set I left my seat at the front and stood further back so I could take a few pictures of the whole stage and get all of them in. Would have loved to go up to the balcony, but it was closed and they would not let me up there. They started a cappella again, this time with Guillaume and again it was beautiful. <3 Gunnar explained how that was one of the happier Christmas songs and told us that almost everyone in Iceland sings. ‘Góda veslu göra skal’ followed, this time introduced as a Faroese Christmas song. It has always been one, they just usually do not say it. 😉

Gunnar told us how ‘Mute’ was inspired by the though of being in a country where nobody speaks the language you speak. I never thought about it this way, it gives the song a new perspective. 🙂 The woman, who sat next to me got up and spoke to Ragnar. He then told everyone it was someone’s birthday (the woman’s mom, who was with them, turned 70 that day) and they sang Happy Birthday for her in Icelandic.

Ragnar spoke about how they are all physics nerds and how the theory of quantum entanglement between particles can be applied to people, e.g. when you think of someone and they call you on the phone. This idea inspired ‘Entagled’. At the start of the song the computer refused to work and play the track correctly, so they had to start over. Second time worked like a charm and they gave us a great version of the song.

Because they could not play two happy song sin a row ‘Nú gleymist ég’ was next. I had not realized how much I’d missed that song until I heard it again. <3 We learned that it was about an avalanche that killed many people in Iceland years ago. I assume they were referring to the one in the Werstfjords in 1995. They also spoke about the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, that almost stopped their first German tour and how they still have lots of ash leftover from their Kickstarter campaign.

The combination of ‘Things you said’ and ‘You again’ followed, before they ended the show with ‘Shades’, telling us how much they had enjoyed it and how interactive it had been. The song always works as and ending song and usually gets audiences excited enough to ask for more. 😉 Not that this audience needed any encouragement. We cheered until they were back and they sent us off into the night with ‘Heyr himna smiður’. It was a fitting closure to a wonderful evening. 🙂

Then it was time to chat with the guys for a bit. Ragnar asked me if I approved and I said I did. The evening was thoroughly enjoyable and even though they left out a few songs I might have wanted to hear I got so many of my favorites that it was a really good mixture. I can go and listen to this a few more times. 😉

pictures of this concert

Árstíðir European Christmas tour: One gig down, six to go. Next stop: Berlin

Setlist

Schedryk schedryk (Carol of the bells)
Ages
Með hallandi höfði
Ljoð í sand
Someone who cares
Scarborough Fair / Canticle
Jólabæn einstæðingsins
Passion
Moonlight
Þar sem enginn fer
While this Way

Hátið fer að höndum ein
Góda veslu göra skal
Mute
Happy Birthday (in Icelandic)
Entangled
Nú gleymist ég
Things you said
You again
Shades

Heyr himna smiður

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