Make me remember and help me forget

Louise Lemón / Árstíðir / Sólstafir – B90, Gdánsk; November 20th, 2018

When I saw Árstíðir announce another tour supporting Sólstafir I wasn’t happy. It’s that I didn’t like their last tour together or didn’t enjoy Sólstafir, but I really did not want them to become a support band. Greedy me wanted to hear more than just 30 or 40 minutes of music and especially the songs from the new album, not the same ones I had already heard over 150 times. Thus, I decided to skip this tour and rather see a few shows on their solo tour they had announced as well, even though that was not an album tour either. My plan held up until I booked my flight home from Gdánsk and realized there were no feasible ones on a Tuesday, but a direct flight to Dortmund on Wednesday morning. Coincidentally Sólstafir were playing Gdánsk on that Tuesday night. As Ragnar put it “That’s a no brainer!” Yep! After seeing them bring the house down at airwaves I was looking much forward to the show too and what can I say? It was great! 😀

Spent the day in Gdánsk and walked to the venue while there was still daylight just to know where it was. Good thing I did too, I’m not sure I would have found it in the dark.  It was in some industrial area, near the harbor and looked quite cool in the pictures the guys posted on Instagram. Much later I got back there and arrived to a handfull of people waiting in front of me. It got colder and the crowd got bigger as we waited, but I was in front so I wasn’t worried. Well, not until I was not on the list for a photo pass and they would not let me in despite having a ticket. I ended up calling Ragnar and he and Erin came to my rescue. To my surprise I still got a spot at the front despite so many people going in before me. Once there I badly wanted a tea, but the fact that I’d have to buy a card for that and charge it with money made me decide against it. Eventually I got warm without tea.

The venue was indeed cool with high ceilings and metal pillars. It was still half empty too, even though it was almost showtime. Louise Lemón was up first and I liked her a lot better than I had liked Myrkur the previous year. Her music was very listenable if nothing special. I enjoyed listening, even liked the music, but could not remember any of it as soon as she and her band left the stage. It was nice, but I could have done without it and I felt a bit sorry for her that she did not leave more of an impression.

I watched the guys setting up stage and smiled in anticipation. They’d get 40 minutes, more than most of their Airwaves gigs. The venue had gotten a little fuller and a bit warmer by the time they walked out. Seeing them instantly made me forget about the fact that I was still a little cold and I was happy to see Guillaume with them. They had no violinist nor did Hállgrimur, Sólstafir’s drummer, join them, but cello alone is fine with me. 🙂

They started with ‘Mute’ and the computer was with them this time, so the backing track worked – it sounded good too.  ‘Things you said’ was next and sounded surprisingly fresh. Gunnar talked about the new album briefly and announced ‘While this way’ next. That was the moment I really got into it. This song never fails to touch me. “I’ll find a way, I’ll find a way, I always manage” fits for so many situations in my life, especially related to my travels and occasionally it all feels like I might be falling off the edge of the world as well.

‘Þar sem enginn fer’ was great. I love it when they sing in english, because I understand what they are saying, but this one is actually one of my favorites on the album, even though, or maybe because it is the only Icelandic one. I love the rhythm and melody of the song. Daníel sings it with so much emotion, it always seems as if I understand even though I am totally clueless of what it is about.

Before ‘Lover’ Ragnar asked how many people spoke Icelandic and there was actually a show of hands. I certainly did not expect that. The song is always great, but somehow it sounded clearer that night than I’d heard it in a long time. Perfect! 🙂 Someone yelled for ‘Ljoð í sand’ and Gunnar said the request was appreciated, but they’d do ‘Fridðþægingin’ instead. He said that it was one of the most complicated words in Icelandic. Ragnar promised a beer for anyone who’d say it correctly to them after the show and Daníel added that it didn’t count if you were Icelandic. 😀 I trust myself to pronounce it right, but I don’t like beer. 😉 Love the song though.

They discussed for a moment and told us they’d change the setlist, because you sing best in the most unexpected places like train stations. What followed was not ‘Heyr hymna smiður’, but ‘Bæn einstæðingsins.’ – it was indeed fitting for the place and worked well with the acoustics. <3 Last song of the set was ‘Shades’. I have always loved it, but it feels a little overplayed by now, and especially right after ‘Fridðþægingin’ it doesn’t work well for me. With the a cappella break in-between it was fine though. It was a good set as a whole and after a few technical problem at Airwaves this one ran smoothly. Being there really made me happy.

Setlist

Mute
Things you said
While this way
Þar sem enginn fer
Himinhvel
Lover
Fridðþægingin
Bæn einstæðingsins
Shades

I had no idea when Sóltafir would start. It was listed on the venue’s website, but I could not remember. Changing of the stage went quickly though and with some images on the big screens that could have come from a music video or an old Icelandic movie, the music started and the show was on the road. They walked on stage to lots of fog and backlighting so Hallgrímur and Ragnar weren’t really visible at first. Even though I’d seen the band six times by then, I still cannot recognize their songs, but it never matters, because the music always draws me in. Just watching them play made me smile, but the sound was also great and the lights were beautiful too. There songs are so long that they play only few of them during a concert, but it never gets boring. The music is just too powerful for that and creates a great abundance of emotions and images on my mind.

The first song was entirely instrumental and didn’t seem familiar to me. They continued with something I’d certainly heard before and Addi’s impressive voice was added to the mix. I don’t know what it is about him, but I really like hearing him sing and love watching him do it too. He always looks like he is going all in, fully caught up in the moment. Funnily enough it doesn’t matter to me that most of the songs are in Icelandic, because the songs speak volumes to me, even though I don’t understand the words and I could not explain that even if I tried. I remember I talked about it with Ragnar during the tour last year and he said something about their music getting to you. He is right, It does.

I recognized ‘Silfur-Refur’ as the song they had started the shows with the previous tour. Not that I knew the name, but I knew I’d heard it a few times. Sólstafir concerts are a strange mixture for me. I’m not a fan, so I count them among the gigs where I am not emotionally involved so much and can go there just to listen to the music and watch them play and interact with the audience. Yet they always manage to draw me in and by the end, the emotional distance is completely gone. I like it that way too. At this concert the audience was really good in terms of going along with the music, singing, shouting head banging. That alone made it a great experience and it looked like the band was totally enjoying the gig as well. 🙂

Once the initial artificial fog had receded, I concentrated on Hallgrímur and Ragnar for a while, trying to get a few good pictures of them. I noticed Ragnar having trouble with the cables of his in-ear monitors being tangled up in his necklace. I think it was in the process of trying to untangle the two that he knocked over the mic stand. No matter how it happened, I saw it fall and thought “Oh no, how is he going to get that back up”. It wasn’t audible though and probably not noticed by many. During the next small break he got, he had to get up and pick it up. Luckily that remained the only accident that night. From then on, things went smoothly and seeing him head banging with flying hair made me smile. I just love how different his stage personality is when he plays with Sólstafir compared to Árstíðir. He always looks like he is enjoying it tremendously too.

The setlist seemed half familiar, i.e. made up of songs they had played on the previous tour and half new. After the show I learned that they had only added three new songs, but it seemed like more to me. It must have been because the mixed up the order of songs. That only shows how unfamiliar I am with their material. 😉 I enjoyed it thoroughly though. They were almost halfway through the show when Addi said hello and told us they’d been waiting for a long time to play in Gdánsk. Were we tired yet? Of course not. 😀 He announced a song they had not played in a long time, but I wouldn’t know. Anyway, he said they liked it and wanted to play it for the first time in ten years. It was ‘Ljósfari’. I’m pretty sure I hadn’t heard it before, but I’ve been wrong before too. 😉 It is a great sing for sure.

‘Hula’, from their latest album followed and had people sing along. It was brilliant. We all cheered before the song was fully over though, because there is a break near the end. Damn! People started chanting “Sólstafir, Sólstafir!” right until Sæþór started playing a melody on the guitar. Addi introduced all the band members and told us Ragnar was from Svalbard. Well, he did lived there once – I guess it just sounded cooler. 😉 He also asked us how many of us had been to Iceland and decided five people were enough and we didn’t need to go there anyway. If we were gonna buy all the merchandise they’d play for five more hours he promised, but nobody moved so that offer was off the table. They were in a good mood, teasing about which songs they were going to play and then not doing it. He wanted to know how to say “black sand” in Polish and then decided he could not say it anyway. Next up was ‘Svartir sandar’ though, another new addition to the set list. It was the last song before the encores.

They came back out soon though and started with ‘Fjara’, a song some people called for earlier. This was familiar territory. I remembered the song well from other shows and enjoyed it a lot. When it was over, Addi started speaking about how he usually does not explain the meaning of their songs, but was going to make an exception now. I immediately knew ‘Bláfjall’ was going to be next. It is by far my favorite song of theirs. He spoke about how many people suffer from depression and how it is a big taboo to talk about it, even though people are dying every day “fighting this fucking darkness in their head and in their hearts” and how each one of us would know someone or be someone suffering from it. A guy in the audience kept yelling something and he asked him politely to calm down, before he continues and told us to be there for these people in our lives and dedicated the song to all of us fighting depression or knowing someone who does. By then I was already in tears. It hits very close to home right now. The song hurt and it touched me deeply. It always does. There is so much passion in the performance that I cannot imagine anyone not feeling it. I may not understand the words, but I sure understand the emotions this song creates. It really got to me that night.

Luckily, ‘Goddess of the Ages’ came along to chase the dark clouds away from my soul and make me smile again. It is the song where everyone seems to rock the hardest, maybe because it is the last one of the night, the last chance to head bang and play wild solos before the night is over. Addi asked us to help them out on this one and scream loudly on the count of four. It worked too, after encouraging us a few more times. There was a wide distance between the stage and the front row and when I’d first seen it I’d thought “Well, he’s not gonna go into the audience this time around”. I was so wrong. Apparently there is no gap far enough for Addi to bridge and there he was, balancing on the railing, walking past us, leaning into the crowd to shake hands and sing to people. Once he took my hand for support and I gladly took it. It was fun to have him so close by. Once he was back on stage I watched Ragnar take the Hammond for a walk, lifting it high above his head and then crouching down right where I stood, all the while still playing. It was awesome! Everyone else delivered as well, showing us all their skills one last time before it was over. What a great show that was, it left me happy and a little exhausted.

I stayed for a bit to chat with Ragnar, but had to say goodbye soon, because I had an early flight. On the way back to my hostel I remembered the last tour I had seen them and the sad note it ended on for me. Yet then, as well as now the music had made me forget all of my worries. That has not changed since, and even though the memories were coming back then and there I was glad I’d decided to see them after all and even felt a little sad that I could not do more than this one show. This might be a good thing though, because it ended on such a high note. I felt very grateful and I’m pretty sure I’ll go and see them again the next chance I get.

Setlist

78 Days in the Desert
Köld
Silfur-Refur
Ísafold
Ótta
Ljósfari
Hula
Svartir sandar

Encore:
Fjara
Bláfjall
Goddess of the Ages

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Incomplete maps, candles and many stories

Ragnar Ólafsson – Mjazzga, Elbląg; November 18th, 2018

After a wonderful week at Iceland Airwaves and returning to Reykjavik riight after to see Arstidir perform with Magnus Þór, I found myself in Poland once again to attend Ragnar Ólafsson’s solo tour. Somehow he had managed to get there a day before I did and play another gig, but I joined him in Elbląg. Even though I’d only seen him play his solo material live in May it felt like ages ago, because I could not attend any of his shows in October. So this gig in Elbląg felt all fresh and wonderful. It made me happy to see Ragnar and David play and the concert was a good one.

I’d flewn to Poland the previous night, with my flight being surprisingly on time after storms in Iceland had delayed most flights during the day. Spent the night in Gdánsk, made my way to Elbląg around noon and had enough time to walk around the pretty little city for a bit.  The gig was planned as a house concert originally, but had been moved to to a small club last minute. When I arrived I ran into A. who I had briefly met at Airwaves. We spent the time chatting and admiring the nicely decorated club. Behind the stage was a world map made of bricks, but strangely Iceland was missing. Candles on stage created a nice mood and I could not wait for the show to start.

The organizer of the gig walked on stage and announced them. I don’t know what he was saying, but it seemed to be funny, because people were laughing. Ragnar picked up on the fact that he said something about Vikings and explained the necklace he was wearing (Þor’s hammer). After the first song, ‘SSDD’, he added that the only Polish words he kew where the ones the car navigation system was saying. David added he only knew how to go right, which was good, because going in circles would always bring them back here, to a place they liked. 😀 I already knew then that the concert was going to be fun, because they were both in such a good mood. They were also noticeably tired which resulted in Ragnar having to think about the words to ‘Deva’ at times. It didn’t matter though and one would have to know the song really well to even realize he was hesitating.

Before ‘Bravery’ he asked how many ha seen him play before and it was only A. and me. Thus, telling the same story as always was safe 😉 It had some new additions though from wondering if grizzly bears liked Jägermeister (which, surprisingly, had become ‘”Jägermeister cinnamon vanilla” by now) to going into details about eating spam (“if you’re not laughing you don’t know what spam is”). I had missed the stories and the music. Somehow the songs are still evolving, with subtle or even bigger changes over time and I enjoy listening for those. My favrorites stay the same, with ‘Bravery’ being one of them, but each and every song has something I love and depending on my mood they speak to me differently. I was happy that night and just enjoyed being there. 🙂

Next up was a song that Ragnar wrote for his grandmother after she died and played at her funeral. He asked if I’d ever heard it but I hadn’t, so it must have been quite some time ago he last played it. He told us he found it while going through old demos. The song was rather beautiful and the words felt sooothig somehow. He forgot a verse in between, but it was lovely nonetheless. <3 Afterwards he asked us if we knew what “La la la” means in Icelandic. Everyone laughed when it turned out that it means nothing at all. Thus, he concluded the words can be used to express anything and be the saddest words in the world when put in the context of a sad song.

David returned to the stage for ‘Urges’, but first they needed to fix his monitor. There was no sound on it. When the tech finally got it to work, it was too loud, because David had kept asking him to turn it up. He joked that this is what they usually do during sound check. It promted Ragnar to tell a story about Ravi Shankar playing with The Beatles at Royal Albert Hall where people had mistaken his sound check for a song. Eventually they got it right and continued. Things like these always makes concerts more memorable. 😀 Again, Ragnar forgot the words, but they came back to him soon, so they just started over. I noticed some changes in the lyrics too and smiled, not only because I know the song well enough to notice, but also because that’s what so many musicians do without anyone ever knowing. The sound was great that night and every song sounded good. 🙂

We learned about time spent on the Mississippi river and writing a song every day. “Some where absolute shit, but a few where really good.” David joked there were two, so Ragnar said that there are only two David likes and he answered those were the only two he knew how to play. The  wonderful ‘Walls’ followed. It is one of the shortest songs I know, but these three minutes speak t me more than a thousand page book could. I still cannot figure out what it means, but it touches my soul and that is enough for me. <3

The venue had the well known pictures of Frank Zappa on the toilet above the men’s toilet which caused Ragnar to nerd out on Zappa for a bit. The most interesting part of that was finding out that the woman in the picture above the women’s toilet was one of the Turnettes, Ike and Tina Turner’s backing vocals, who sang on one of Zappa’s albums and that Tina herself sang on the album, but Ike hated it and thus Zappa was not allowed to use her name on the album cover. All that came forth after someone from the venue mentioned she was one of Zappa’s backup singers, but they did not know her name. it was just a prelude to saying there was a piano on stage and we were supposed to sing next. Ragnar joked we’d find the lyrics under our seats and David added they’d be next to the life jackets. 😀 The next song of course was ‘Relations’ and we actually managed the sing along pretty well. At the end I heard him say “We’ll skip ‘Red Wine'” in Swedish. I would have liked to hear that one, but it didn’t really fit the mood.

The setlist, i.e. the phone was almost out of battery which lead to a short discussion of the old days where they were written on paper. I sure miss them. It was back to the Mississippi for the next song, a new one called ‘Muddy Waters’,  a tribute to the muddy Mississippi. He told us a little bit about the beauty of life on the river, how nice and helpful people are who live there. They’d played the song during soundcheck and I’d really liked it. It is very bluesy and stands out from the rest. This one might become a live favorite. It sure is fun. 😀 Next up was ‘The Message’. I’d asked Ragnar to play that song, because it had been playing in my head lately. The song has evolved much since I’d heard it for the first time in May and turned into something truly beautiful. Exactly the song I had hoped for and very much the song I needed right then and here. Thank you! <3

They told us we’d get to hear one more song and could vote for an encore with our hands. We were taken back to the Mississippi again for ‘Southern Nights’ and again managed the sing-along well. Funny, I remember this song did not do much for me when I first heard it, but it is so uplifting that I really enjoy hearing it now. It worked well to end the main set and people enthusiastically clapped and cheered for more.

Ragnar was back on the stage alone and spoke about Ask the Slave. Since someone in the audience thought it’s be a good Name for an African band, he explained ow it was a tribute to the people who had invented Blues and Rock. David asked if he was going to play ‘Sleep now’ right away or not and Ragnar answered that he’d play the other song first or something like that. It was all in Swedish, but I gathered that we’d hear ‘Where the wild Roses grow’ first. That’s what happened too and the audience even sang along. 😀 David joined him again for ‘Sleep now’ and Ragnar walked around in the room to sing to everyone. I would have gladly heared a few more songs after this, but it was the last one. A good end to a good show.

I stuck around, talked with A. a lot, who, as it turned out, had been in Malmö for Progressive Circus too. We chatted with Ragnar for a little while  and eventually said goodbye. It was fun, see you tomorrow.

Setlist

SSDD
Deva
Bravery
Icelandic – grandmother
Urges
Walls
Rellations
Muddy Water
The Message
Southern Nights

Wine
Needle and Thread
Where the wild Roses grow
Sleep now

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