That night we went down to the river

Ragnar Ólafsson – KD Strelnice, Vrchlabí; Febuary 27th, 2020

You know it’s been an amazing night when by the end of it you have sung Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The River’ at the top of your lungs with your friend, whom you’ve always been shy to sing in front of because he’s a musician and actually knows how to do this. Yep, this happened and despite my memory being just a little bit hazy I will not forget it. The  concert Ragnar played in Vrchlabí was fun too, but the after show jam session will remain the highlight.

Compared to the other days on this tour, this one started early, because I had a long trip ahead of me. It’s not that Vrchlabí is far from the Czech/Polish border or far from Wroclaw for this matter, but the connections between countries are shitty and after checking all the options I had to do what I had to do. So it was a 9 am buy to Liberec and three trains from there. I made all the connections and arrived on time. At 17:30 I reached my hostel, filled with German teenagers on a skiing trip and their teachers. Oh my, the volume. 😉

Got ready, had a bite to eat and left, since it was a 25 minute walk to the venue. On the way I encountered one of my pictures of Ragnar turned into a poster to advertise the gig. I had two separate reactions to this: It made me smile, because it looked good. It also made me slightly angry, because nobody had asked for permission to use my picture and I somehow doubted it had come to the venue via Ragnar or Bartek – by now I know the promo photos they use and mine isn’t one of them. When I finally got to the venue I got confirmation – I asked where they got the picture and the answer was a lame “I assume from Bartek”, but it didn’t sound right, especially because they got shifty when I said I’d ask him and that it wasn’t OK if the picture had come from somewhere else. I really don’t mind my pictures being used, in fact I am proud when someone wants to use them, but it really annoys me when people don’t even bother to ask and think everything they find on the internet is free. My pictures are watermarked for a reason.

That out of the way I found myself a front row spot (how is it that people so often want to sit anywhere but the front?), got a glass of wine and settled down. It was an early show, starting just after 19:30. Like in Poznan, Kathia Polrolniczak was supporting again and did a marvelous job. I love her voice and her songs. I’d been hoping I’d hear her introductions in English  this time, but she asked which language she should speak and people voted for Polish. Oh well. Every song she sang was beautiful and soon I felt a lot more relaxed and started smiling. She played three songs in English and one in Polish. One of the songs she had just written the previous day. Her music was perfect to get me into the right mood.

Without so much as a break, Ragnar stepped on stage, wine glass in hand and ready to roll. He played it safe, setlist wise and I had the feeling he was nursing a hangover, but that didn’t spoil the concert at all. He was definitely emotional about playing in Czech Republic again, because he has so many good memories from the Árstíðir tours there. Before he started playing he said that listeners were just as important as the person singing and asked us all to help him get in the mood by singing one note, like a hum “hmmmmmm”. It worked beautifully to underline ‘SSDD’ and I remembered he’d done that once before somewhere.

Once again the chair to my left was empty and Ragnar stepped on it while he played ‘Wine. He had a bit trouble controlling his voice at the beginning, but it got better after a while and he just put more power into his singing. 🙂 He was less talkative than at some of the other shows, telling only a few stories this time. So we didn’t get any background on ‘Deva’ this time and ‘Dozen’ was just introduced as “a cute song about heartbreak”. There is no ‘Bravery’ without the story though and I’d miss it f it wasn’t there. He described the Jägermeister as “full of sugar and the sweat from the armpits of Donald Trump” – ewwww! I had a good time singing along to all the songs, trying to do it quietly.

After the first five songs, Ragnar moved over to the piano for ‘Relations’. People seemed skeptical about singing along at first, but then got really into it. I liked it. ‘Red Wine’ was absolutely brilliant – very emotional and powerful. It was my highlight of the night. <3 The audience was really listening and they sure were laughing a lot too. When he checked the setlist on his phone he started joking about reading emails and taking selfies. It was funny! This time, when asked what we wanted to hear, the vote was for a bluesy song so he played ‘Muddy Waters’ for us. It was the perfect fit for a hungover night – “stamina and alcohol”, right?

After that, we were even up for singing in Icelandic. A bit of doubt set in when he joked what our part was gonna be and said some complicated sounding words in Icelandic. We all laughed at that and then did really well with the “lalala” part we actually did have to sing. It always sounds really nice. <3 When he started talking about Bartek I could not believe it was time for ‘Dragonfly’ already – how did we get there so quickly? This time, Kathia joined them too, playing glockenspiel while Bartek played the tiny keyboard. They had lots of fun with it and so did we. Cow costumes for the win!

Kathia stayed for ‘Petals’, bringing us to the encore. Of course I said “ooooh” when he told us they were down to the last song. He asked us to do it again and everyone else chimed in too. 😀 The song brought the set to a beautiful end and soon enough Ragnar was back with ‘Southern Nights’. He told us it needs to be played on ukulele, because it is such a happy song and it is impossible to play said songs on that instrument. I disagree, but maybe he hasn’t heard that yet. 😉 When he told us what to sing he added a “yeehaaa!” in the end which caused a lot of laughter again. We managed this sing along nicely too. 🙂

The murder ballads were the last two songs and this time Kathia helped out, with Ragnar joking she’d sing Nick Cave’s part. It worked well, I loved hearing ‘Where the wild Roses grow’ as a real duet this time. <3 As almost always it ended with ‘Sleep now’ and as always I enjoyed it a lot. It is so much fun to sing along to. 🙂

Some people stayed, a few bought CDs, I chatted with Ragnar and got confirmation that he was indeed hungover. He also told me that the promoter had apologized to them for using my picture and they’d take care next time to tell people not to use any pictures they got elsewhere. Fine with me. 🙂 We talked about other stuff too and then I got introduced me to the owner of Meskalina and we chatted for a while. Then, somehow, one of the people who were left got Ragnar’s guitarlele and started playing some Czech song with everyone singing along. We joined them, Ragnar got his guitar and suddenly we had a jam session going. Everyone threw ideas out there and they just played whatever they could manage. Somewhere in there I suggested Bruce and got ‘The River’, but it was only Ragnar and me singing, with me having to remind him of some lyrics. It worked perfectly and I had a blast. <3 Other songs were U2’s ‘One’, The Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’ and of course Enrique Inglesias’ ‘Hero’ with Bartek on Glockenspiel. 😀 Later the whole party moved over to the piano, drinks were flowing freely and we all had a great time. Last song of the night was Bon Jovi’s ‘Livin on a Prayer’. 🙂 After lots of goodbye hugs I finally stumbled home, happy to have Googe maps to guide me. What a great night that was!

pictures of this concert

Setlist

SSDD
Wine
Deva
Dozen
Bravery
Relations
Red Wine
Muddy Waters
Örlög
Dragonfly
Petals

Southern Nights
Where the wild Roses grow
Sleep now

Ragnar Ólafsson – Something New Tour – eight gigs down, two to go. Next stop: Walbrzych

Posted in Concert | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on That night we went down to the river

I have no fear when I’m with you

Ragnar Ólafsson – house concert, Wroclaw; February 26th, 2020

I can safely say that the house concert in Wroclaw was the reason I decided to do the second half of the tour. I had applied for a spot just in case and when I got it  realized I really wanted to go. Since I already had Krakow / Orzesze and Blazkowa planne and it really did not make sense to travel back and forth between Germany and Poland three times ion the same week I decided “what the hell, I’ll just do all of the ones in between too”. So here I was, in a house in Wroclaw, on the outskirts of the city, pretty close to the Darkness on the Edge of town (i.e. the “you are now leaving Wroclaw” sign) and there was no other place I would have rather been. It was my second show on this tour where Julia Szkrobek played with Ragnar and the most emotional one yet. A truly amazing night.

Being on the outskirts of the city meant there was only one bus going that way, roughly once per hour, which did not leave me with a lot of options. I got there too early and decided to take a little walk, following an eerie yellow light for a while. When I hit the “end of Wroclaw” sign I had to turn back, because there was no longe a footpath. I never found out where the light came from, but someone later told me it might have been a green house. Either way, the closer I got, the more green it looked, at least on the pictures I took until it was similar in color to Northern lights. I liked the idea and posted it to Instagram, then found the right house and was in a huge living room soon after. Said hello and talked to Ragnar for a little while. He had received news that our friend K. (not the one from Warsaw) was in the hospital with heart problems and immediately had me worried too. I messaged her,trying to send some good vibes.

Around 8:30 or so everyone had settled down, but I was the only one who sat on the floor right in front of the stage. That didn’t bother me though, it was the best seat in the house. There was so much space, my guess is 15 more people could have fit easily. The hosts had even made some tickets for us. Nice touch! Bartek stepped up and announced Ragnar. I am starting to recognize words in what he says, but I still cannot make sense of Polish. 😉 The essential info was that there was a hat to go around at the end of the show for us to throw money in. Yep, can do.

As in Poznan the previous night, Ragnar started with ‘Southern Nights’ and it worked out great. He seamlessly integrated the story with the song and also got us to sing without much of an effort. We did so well he claimed he liked it better than Warsaw and Bartek chimed in”I told you everything is better than Warsaw”. 😀 He switched ukulele for guitarlele and continued with ‘Wine’, stepping out into the room and using the space he had, but still standing right next to me for a long time. <3 The acoustics in the room were pretty good, if slightly echo-y at times.

Julia joined him for the next few songs and we learned that they had already sang at two radio stations that day. For ‘Dozen’ he introduced a newly bought toy, a tambourine he could attach to his shoe. To my surprise it worked nicely.He is slowly turning into a one man band there. 😉 Julia was excellent of course – it is just amazing how much she adds to the songs. With her there is this extra layer of emotions. <3 ‘War’ followed. That had not been on the setlist since Gdansk and I liked having it back, especially with Julia’s vocals in the mix. 🙂 Ragnar told us how surprised he was when his solo project brought out a different side of him, after playing in so many metal bands and liking loud music. For the solo songs, silence just fits much better and is a good thing he embraced it.

‘A minor Scratch’ did it – hit me just as hard as the first time I heard it and I was crying. What a gorgeous song this is. I cannot get enough of it. <3 The sadness disappeared quickly when Bartek reminded Ragnar that he’d promied to tell the audience what “ras” means in Icelandic, so he explained. I still have no idea what it means in Polish, but I now know it means “asshole” in Icelandic. ‘Bravery’ was next and apparently he was a changed man after that Jägermeister. 😉 Still feeling the taste of it sounds terrible, but I still hope he does not take the song off of the setlist any time soon. It is just too much fun! From there, with no announcement, he went straight into ‘Water’ – wow, what a change in pace and emotions. How can something be so sad and so beautiful at the same time? <3

From sad to angry, he announced ‘Scar’ and dedicated it to K., because she had requested it for that night and it was his way of sending good wishes. I made sure i filmed it so I could send here the video later. He went all in for it, with passion and power. then ended it on a soft note and wished her well in the end. 🙂 For ‘Relations’ Ragnar moved over to the piano in the corner without a microphone. We could still hear him well and not being amplified added to the dramatic mood of the song. I liked it and we managed a really good sing-along too. It was very much in tune. Bartek did the best to move the lights, while he was at the piano and then moved them back as he returned to the stage, so his many talents were praised.

We heard about Mexico and how happy he was there, writing songs every day. Julia joined him again for the song of the same name and I liked her addition to the song – it is growing on me. Considering what ‘Southern Nights’ has turned into since I had first heard the rough first version, I have great expectations for this one too. 🙂 He did not speak about Patreon though, as if he’d forgotten about it. I wanted to remind him after the show and then never did. That night we really went back and forth emotionally between happier and sadder songs, continuing with ‘Petals’ – It worked well and hearing Julia on this one is always a treat. 🙂

The time came for more singing along with ‘Örlög’ and Ragnar joked that “lalala” means “hello and goodbye” in Icelandic, then instructed us to put our own thoughts into it. I guess we all did – it sounded great for sure. We heard more about Bartek’s many talents as an introduction to ‘Dragonfly’ and now he apparently even played glockenspiel. Ragnar is certainly collecting many new toys on this tour. I believe he started the tour with guitar, guitarlele and mini synthesizer, but by now there was also a ukulele, the tiny tambourine and a glockenspiel. Might be good that the tour is over soon. 😉 The song was light-hearted and fun. In my effort to capture the moment when both Bartek and Ragnar stepped out from the stage, I ended up lying down on my back. It was the best I could do. 😛 ‘The Message’ ended the set this time, goose-bump inducing as it always is. It was the second time that night after ‘Water’ that I was so moved I was close to tears. It was truly powerful and I could not have imagined a better last song.

What a perfect night! I was really sad that it was already coming to an end. Sure, we got encores, but most of it was sadly over already. We needed to cheer for it though and Ragnar had some fun conducting us. he then went into a detailed description of ‘Where the wild Roses grow’ as the best example of a murder ballad, digging into the lyrics a bit and how mind blowing the whole song is. Julia helped him out on this and looked positively shocked when he joked that she was going to be Nick Cave’s part. They did it perfectly, ending on a whisper. 🙂 ‘Sleep now’ then started with one, after he’d stepped out into the living room and was looking straight at me. I mouthed the lyrics right back to him, then sang along softly as he played the guitar louder and eventually moved away from me and further into the room. Julia helped on this one too and did the “I love you” part. In the end he stood on the stairs that led to the upper floor and sang from there, looking back at the room. Everyone loved it and I’m sure we would have liked more, but it is always the final song.

I had truly enjoyed this night. Next to Bielsko-Biala and Puszczykowo it was my favorite one so far. We talked for a bit, I got to share drinks with the hosts and some other people, said goodbye to Julia when she left and got a final hug from Ragnar before I had to go and catch the last bus back into the city. The night was shorter than some of the others, but I didn’t mind. Sometimes it is nice to get some sleep and I had an early start the next morning.

pictures of this concert

Setlist

Southern Nights
Wine
Dozen
War
A minor Scratch
Bavery
Water
Scar
Relations
Mexico
Petals
Örlög
Dragonfly
The Message

Where the wild Roses grow
Sleep now

Ragnar Ólafsson – Something New Tour – seven gigs down, three to go. Next stop: Vrchlabí

Posted in Concert | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on I have no fear when I’m with you