Hangovers, Stories and much needed hugs

Ragnar Ólafsson – TU, Łódź ; May 18th, 2018

Ever since Ragnar’s first Poland tour about one year ago (was that really just last year?) I’ve been wanting to do a full tour with him again, but so far it has not worked out and it was the same this time around. Due to my personal circumstances I could only see two shows out of the seven he and David played in Poland this time around, but two is better than none and I had vowed to enjoy the hell out of them. Music in general has always given me strength in times of need. This concert was overshadowed by terrible news and served as a good distraction in the end. To my surprise I enjoyed it when I expected to be grieving all the way through. Emotions are weird sometimes and I’m glad I was able to draw some happiness and strength out of this gig when I needed it.

My father had been struggling with cancer since Christmas and we all knew it was a losing battle. He got weaker every time I saw him and when I visited Thursday night I knew it was not going to be long now. I said my goodbyes then, unaware that would be the last time I’d see my dad. The next morning I set out for my concert trip to Poland, wondering if I should stay, then deciding that it would not change anything. About eight hours later, in a bus, on the highway somewhere between Poznan and Łódź I got the news that my father had passed away. There was nothing I could do, no way I could get back home quickly. Even if I’d turned around and gone back the moment I arrived in Łódź it still would have taken me until the next morning to get back. Therefore I stayed. I had cried a lot on the bus, but when I arrived I was surprisingly calm. There was no way of knowing what music would do to me in the state I was in, but I hoped that being around people I love would do me good.

We arrived with more than an hour delay and it was raining, so instead of doing a bit of sightseeing I went straight to the venue. Ragnar, David and Bartek had already arrived so I went downstairs to say hello, finding two incredibly hungover musicians and a promoter who was not amused. Brief hugs and handshakes before I left them to their preparations and went back upstairs for some food. The place was vegetarian so they had some yummy veggie goulash on offer – it instantly made me feel better. Afterwards I snuck back downstairs and listened to soundcheck, not without making fun of Ragnar who could not hit the high notes yet.

A bit later, when soundcheck was over and I went upstairs to get a drink, I met J. who had just arrived. We sat down for a bit until they allowed everyone downstair where I’d already save two seats earlier. We even had a table to ourselves and a good view of the stage. From the right side this time. We chatted away until the guys walked on stage. There was no support act, just Ragnar and David. First thing he told us is that Łódź feels like a home away from home and it was good to be back. He wished for everyone to “enjoy the ride”

I noticed right away how good the sound was at the venue. Being as emotional as I was that night it helped me to immediately get into the music and forget everything else for a while. David’s violin carried me from the start and Ragnar’s voice has always been comforting to me. The mostly sad songs were perfect for my mood and there could not have been a beter one than ‘SSDD’ that night to capture my emotions. 🙂

The setlist was back to the usual with ‘Wine’ being the second song. Once again, the high e-string broke during guitar tuning. We learned it was the third string in four days. The song still sounded great. Must have been all the practice with just five strings. 😉 It would be like that for the rest of the night, but that has worked before.

‘Deva’ is the song I connect with the months of my dad’s illness, because it has given me strength during time. I knew there was no hope for healing in this case, but a song of hope is always something to hold on to. “As long as we’ll try we’ll find ways to get by”… it seemed especially beautiful that night and it surprised me that I didn’t cry. Those tears came much later.

Ragnar invited Kasia to sing with him and he told us they’d met in October. I had talked to her before and she’d mentioned that she was still nervous, even though she’d sung with him before. Judging by what I heard during soundcheck she had no reason though. While she was getting ready, he talked about football again, how everyone in Iceland is excited about it, how the fans will go crazy shouting “Huh!” and chanting in a minor key. David asked if he knew people in the national team and he joked about it. Then he finally admitted  that he loves football too and would be glued to the TV once the World Cup started. I was just gonna say something. 😉 ‘Dozen’ was very touching. I loved Kasia’s performance and Ragnar’s singing was more powerful than usual. It suited the song well.. <3

“Sometimes bad drinks can inspire OK music” was the understatement of the day. ‘Bravery’ is such an amazing song and it works well even with a hungover voice. There were moments that night when I thought singing must be quite straining on the vocal chords when teh voice is not really warmed up, but I loved the rougher singing. it made the songs a bit edgier than usual and for some of them, like ‘Bravery’ that fit really well. 🙂

Since there was a piano available, it was used too. Ragnar joked about movies where there is a string missing on the piano and then someone will ultimately get strangled with it. 😀 He wanted us to sing on ‘Relations’ and sounded good when he demonstrated the right notes for us. People were reluctant at first, but got into it eventually. It worked well. 🙂 ‘Red Wine’ as absolutely brilliant. The piano and the violin worked together magically, creating a beautifully sad mood. The song always speaks to me, but that night it did so much stronger than usual. From the first note to the last I was completely mesmerized. *happy sigh*

For almost comic relief and to shows how happiness feels like we got ‘Southern Nights’ next. It sure works to chase the sadness away and the sing-along is always fun. The story always sounds a bit made up, but by now I know most of it is true and only a description of what happened. In fact, Ragnar explained a lot about it that night, mentioning a river BBQ with prates and walking the plank to jump in the river for a swim. 😀 It certainly is the perfect song to make me smile and singing “that’s the way that we wanna go!” along with everyone else worked wonders. “We will be alright, on the Southern Nights”.

“This is only the fourth time we’ll play this song since it’s been written, so consider yourself guinea pigs” was the introduction to ‘The Message’. Now that I knew what was coming, I could concentrate on the lyrics and loved it even more than the first time around. <3 Ragnar was still struggling a bit with the high notes though which gave the song a slightly desperate note. It fits, but I think it was not intended to be this dark. Either way, it was still beautiful. I cannot wait to hear what becomes of this. He asked us if we liked it and people did, so he promised to play it with six strings next time. David quipped “Are you sure?” since so many strings had broken in the past days. I asked if it was always ‘Wine’, because it had been on Tuesday and now, but Ragnar wasn’t sure, but I am convinced that song is a string killer! 😉

Kasia joined him again for ‘Petals’. I still don’t have enough words to express how much I love this one. Every time they play it it is different, yet always beautiful. <3 “We’re down to the last song … before the encore”. Of course it was ‘Scar’ and it worked well for ending the show and getting us in the mood for more. We absolutely did not have enough yet an cheered loudly. They didn’t even walk off because there was no backstage. ‘Needle and Thread’ was announced as the sequel to the breakup album with more “happy keys”, i.e. major ones. The song was great and they had been planning to leave us on a high note with this, but we would not let them go just yet.

Even though the guys walked off stage this time, we clapped until Ragnar was back, thanked us and wondered what to play next. Someone called out ‘Every Brick in Manhattan’ and since it fits so well with all the bricks in Łódź he decided on that and told us the story of thinking about counting every brick in Manhattan and writing a poem about it on a beer napkin. It made me happy to hear the song again. I’d fallen in love with it back on the first tour in Poland and ever since it had been sort of a hidden gem for me, because it has never been released. 🙂

Ragnar was going to play some murder ballads for us, but M. asked for ‘More will come along’, another unexpected song that night. She described it as “it sounds like a fairy-tale”. 🙂 Thank you, I have missed that one! It was lovely. David, who had disappeared, eventually returned and we did get the murder ballads, Nick Cave’s ‘Where the wild Roses grow’, with many of us singing along and finally Ask the Slave’s ‘Sleep now’, for which Ragnar stepped off the stage and stood with the audience for a while. I could not have hoped for a better concert. It was just what I needed! <3

When it was over, J. and I wondered if we’d be going out with he guys or not. Since they were both hungover I figued it might not happen, but we decided to wait and at least say hi. David left soon, having other plans. I chatted with Ragnar for a while and got a good hug when I told him what had happened earlier. He did not want to go home just yet and told us he’d join for one drink so we went upstairs to get some wine. We did not have to wait long, but it was goodbye after all. He felt just too beat. That did not keep J. and me from finding a nice bar though and we had a healthy cocktail (hey, it had goji berries!), chatting until I had to catch a bus home. J. walked me to the station and we said goodbye. See you next time!

pictures of this concert

Setlist

SSDD
Wine
Deva
Dozen
Bravery
Relations
Red Wine
Southern Nights
The Message
Petals
Scar

Needle and Thread

Every Brick in Manhattan
More will come along
Where the wild Roses grow
Sleep now

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Before I mess this one up too

Ragnar Ólafsson – PUBlicscy, Wrocław; May 15h, 2018

For the fourth time in under two years Ragnar Ólafsson was touring Poland, the second time around with violinist David Ra-Champari by his side. I had been hoping to see the full tour, but it did not work out and I had to settle for two out of seven concerts. I was happy to get to see any at all though. 🙂 It was well worth the trip, with quite a few funny stories being told and even a brand new song on the setlist. 😀

I set out in the morning and landed in Wroclaw around noon. A bus ride and a short walk later I was at my hotel and opted for resting instead of sightseeing, knowing I would not get much sleep during the coming night. Got me some food, searched for the venue and then just relaxed until it was time to go. Was at the Pub when they opened, bought a ticket, said hello to the guys and left again for a little while so they could have dinner in peace. When I returned, they were in the midst of sound check. 🙂 The guys were both tired, but sounded OK. They just needed to warm up a bit. When they were done I found a nice seat, got myself a cider and waited. It was about one hour to go.

At first I thought it was going to be empty, but eventually the venue filled up and a small crowd gathered behind me. Shortly after 8 their support act started. Samuel, whose last name escapes me right now, but he made nice music. Being from New Zealand he talked about both of them being islander and how that unites them. He even got us to sing along and played us a new song, work in progress about all the stuff we carry with us through our lives and how maybe that makes us who we are. I quite liked it. Should have asked him about a CD.

After a little while Ragnar and David stepped on stage and tuned their Instruments. Gradually people grew quiet and they started playing ‘SSDD’. It is a good way to ease the audience into the concert, becaue the song is so delicate that everyone has to listen. So far it has always worked. 🙂 Ragnar introduced himself and told us how Iceland was considered to be Mordor in The Lord of the Rings, but then New Zealand was chosen over it. He also remarked that Poland should get used to having him around. ‘Deva’ was beautiful. I noticed that he sang lower than usual, which suited the song just fine. For me it gets better every time I hear it.

He asked Martina on stage to join him for ‘Dozen’ and explained how Bartek finds a singer to help him with the duets at every concert. Also he pointed out how important silence is in his songs. Martina sang beautifully and it was a perfect fit for today’s lower voice. 🙂 It always amazes me how many good singers there are in every city and how quickly they pick up on the songs. Wow!

The talked turned to football because Ragnar asked if Poland was competing in the World Cup and used the opportunity to make fun of the football fans in Iceland and concluded that they are the only fans who chant for their team in minor chords demonstrating the chant for us. He even said that musicians and football fans from Iceland are two different beings. That caused me to raise an eyebrow, because I remembered the Euro Cup and face paint, but chose not to mention it. ‘Bravery’ the song “inspired by a really bad drink” was brilliant as usual. 😀

David asked for more violin in his monitor while he was tuning which lead to him joking about “demanding” violin players, which in turn lead to Ragnar explaining how certain personality types gravitate towards certain Instruments. When he said that all the Introverts are guitar players, I just had to say that I assumed those were bass players. Bass player jokes followed. All of that made me smile for the jokes as well as for a few memories that came up at that moment. When he asked if there were any bass players in the house someone quipped “Not any more!” 😀 It was exactly the distraction I needed that day.

‘Urges’ was followed by two new songs. First was ‘Walls’, introduced as “one of the songs I wrote last year as I was floating down a house boat on the Mississippi”. It seemed to be even more beautiful than it had been when they first played it a few months ago. The song moves me every time I hear it, even though I still don’t have much of a clue what it is about. We all agreed that it should be kept in the setlist. The other one was brand new and called ‘The Message’. When it started, I was not sure about it at all. The first verse was slow and quite high and Ragnar had trouble hitting the high notes that day, so it didn’t come out quite as good as it could have been. Suddenly though it turned to something more powerful and I absolutely loved the chorus, liked the changes between aster and slower, higher and lower. I really liked the lyrics too. This  one has the potential to become one of my favorites. <3

From the songs for the post-breakup album we turned back to the songs from the breakup album and got to hear Martina again on ‘Petals’. She mastered this one beautifully as well. 🙂 ‘Scar’ was next, introducd with the question if there were any banjo players in the house and joke that in hell, instead of a harp to play on you’d get a banjo. The guys really got into it. I loved watching them. To my surprise the set did not end here, but they played ‘Needle and Thread’ as well. It works perfectly fine as a set closer too and I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of this one. 🙂

Soon they were back on stage and Ragnar played the first chord to ‘Wine’ when a string broke. He noted that this was luckily the encore. I liked having the song at the end of the show rather than the beginning. It was lovely even with only five strings. 🙂 Last but not least they played ‘Southern Nights’ for us. We heard a little more about traveling down the Mississippi and the song, especially the pirates they met. “It’s probably the happiest thing I’ve ever written”. I tend to agree, at least it is the happiest song I’ve heard. It was a good end to the show with an out of tune, but very funny sing along, including birthday wishes for K. who had come to see the show.

Afterwards I stayed for a little while, hugged Ragnar, talked, asked about an upcoming tour with Árstíðir (nothing fixed yet) and enjoyed just hanging out. The guys were going to Krakow that night because Bartek was organizing the festival they were going to play at. It suited me just fine, at least I wasn’t missing an afterparty. 😉 I said goodbye to everyone, knowing it’d be back soon.

pictures of this concert

Setlist

SSDD
Deva
Dozen
Bravery
Urges
Walls
The Message
Petals
Scar
Needle and Thread

Wine
Southern Nights

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