Pre-show tears, good mood and goodbyes

Árstíðir – Klub Gwarek, Krakow; December 16th, 2019

All good things have to come to an end and even though I was not ready for it, the concert in Krakow was my last one on Árstíðir’s Christmas tour. I was equally happy to be there and sad that it was going to be over. After the previous night’s show in Warsaw I was really emotional and expected to shed a few tears this night. It didn’t quite happen that way, they just made me totally happy. The show could not have been any better. 🙂

After a good night’s sleep in Warsaw and a nice train ride I made it to Krakow with enough time to get dinner and rest a little before walking to the club. This time the ticket said doors would open at 19:00 so I decided to be there an hour early. It was a long walk and when I arrived I was all alone. They had, however, just started sound check and it was clearly audible from outside. The first song I heard was ‘While this Way’ and I instantly dissolved into tears. It sounded so good and brought so many memories that I could not help but cry. That was a good start. 🙂

I listened some more and eventually realized that the door was open, so I walked in with two others who had just arrived. We could not get into the main hall though and someone came to tell us that they would not open until 19:30. OK then, at least it was warm. In the end they opened at 19:15 and I immediately got a spot at the front, while everyone else went to the side on the seats. There was an upstairs balcony too and I considered going there for a moment, but then decided to stay where I was. Most of the guys walked past me on the way backstage and Ragnar stopped to say hi and give me a hug. 🙂

I wanted them to begin on time, because I had an early flight to catch. Yet, I did not want them to start at all, because that meant it would be over soon. Waiting went by quickly and soon the guys were on stage. From the first moment on everything was right and the sound just as good as it had seemed from the outside. I could not have asked for anything more. The entire night I was close to tears, yet feeling so happy they would not come. My heart was full of love for the band and their music, once again grateful for the opportunity to be there and see them. <3

During ‘Himinhvel’ I was reminded of the first time I’d heard it during a hot summer, somewhere in Poland. It had sounded very different back then, was much more guitar oriented if I recall correctly. Now it is the strings that stick out to me most, yet it is the combination of instruments that makes the song so dear to me. It is always a good start to the concert and the combination with ‘Ljóð í sand’ works really well for me too. When they start their concert with Icelandic songs they seem to draw me in more easily and lead me to dreaming.

Gunnar greeted us, explaining how their holiday show used to be limited to Reykjavik, but they had decided to take it on the road and how they’d play songs they like to sing around Christmas, mixed with their own. First though, we got a few songs from Nivalis. That evenings the percussion on ‘Passion’ stuck out to me and I got lost in the rhythm for a bit. The beautiful strings towards the end made me smile and sway with the music. ‘Circus’ followed and again I smiled at how much These two songs have evolved since I first heard them. ‘Circus’ is just about perfect as it is right now, I loved every second – it has been a favorite of mine from the start, but has only gotten better since.

Without much ado or explanation the guys went straight into ‘Bæn einstæðingsins’. The song always moves me and even thought it isn’t one of their own it feels like it much more so than ‘Heyr himna smiður’. Maybe it’s just because they have not sung that one in a train station yet. 😉 Either way, I love how their voices harmonize for this one and the melancholia of the piece. Ragnar told us how Icelanders have a habit of singing sad songs for Christmas or pretty much every occasion. After all,even their football chant is in minor keys. 😉

They stood around the central mic for ‘Ages’, with the string players by their side. I made me feel happy and sad to hear this song, again feeling melancholia. Afterwards I immediately smiled again, because Ragnar told the story of sitting on Daníel’s sofa, drinking home-brewed wine and writing the songs  much like they were performing them now. They wrote with just three guitars and ‘Kill us’ was played exactly that way. We heard that they made six albums together that feel like their kids, growing up too fast. 😉 Some songs were written for a specific purposed like ‘Heiðin’, which was their song about hope after the bank crash in Iceland. I’m not sure it makes me hopeful, but I sure appreciate the beauty of it. We had already reached the point in the evening when Gunnar announced the last song in the first set. Knowing what was going to come I swallowed. ‘Síðasta kveðjan’ always brings me close to tears. It caries so many different emotions and it is so bautiful that I find it hard not to cry. Having been very emotional all night, I fully expected tears, but strangely, they did not come.  I just deeply enjoyed the song and sighed happily in the end. The music seemed especially gorgeous that night. <3

After the break, Guillaume and Jean-Samuel stepped back on stage quietly and tuned their instrument while Ragnar just sat behind the piano. As usual it took people a moment to realize the concert was going to continue now, but as son as they started playing again they had everyone’s attention. Guillaume had told me ‘La Follia’ was a piece intended for improvisation and thus it sounded a bit different every night. This time, it was very melancholic and sad at the beginning and then seemed very happy and in contrast. Maybe it was just me though. 😉 ‘Oroi’ followed and felt true to ist name – it wasn’t calming at all. Sometimes it surprises me how much my feeling with a certain song depends on my mood.

We were at the perfect point in the show for more Christmas songs and they delivered. Gunnar asked Daniel if he thought it was time for another happy Christmas song before thy sang us ‘Jólin alls staðar’. To me this one is the most Christmassy song in the set, probably it is the one that sounds most like the traditional Christmas songs from home. For ‘Hin fyrstu jól’ Ragnar joined them with the tiny keyboard and joked that “size does not matter. It’s how you use it.” There were a lot of laughs about that – by the sound of it, mostly from the women in the room. 😉 Now that we were in the right mood, we got ‘Heyr himna smiður’ too, Guillaume singing with them. 😀 They told us how this one had been with them since their first ever Christmas concert.

Ragnar spoke more about the sadness in Icelandic songs and how there are many songs that can instantly be recognized as Icelandic because of it, but even easier, because they use parallel fifth. They sang ‘Krummavisur’ to demonstrate that. When it ended,someone called out “Go Vikings!” – we then got a short history of Icelandic music, with the island being so isolated that not much happened for many hundred years, while music developed into a new direction in the rest of Europe.

‘Nú gleymist ég’, parallel fifth or not, was powerful as always and turned straight into ‘Mute’ without much of a break. Works for me! 🙂 ‘Things you said’ was a great showcase for the string players and they got lots of cheers for it. Of course they had to tell us about winning and Independent music Aaard for Nivalis and how Tom Waits  apparently likes their music which prompted Gunnar to play a little bit of Tom Waits on the baritone. Have I mentioned they guys were in a great mood that night? They gave us a killer version of ‘While this Way’ next. Judging by the reaction the song gets every night, I believe I am not the only one who is in love with this song.

Gunnar thanked us for coming out on Monday night to see a show and announced they had arrived at the last song which of course was received with “awwwww” – as he pointed out their favorite reaction to this announcement. Is there anything I haven’t said about ‘Shades’ yet, especially in the current version with the drums. It was awesome and Daníel sure had fun with it. 😀 Encores? We demanded them loudly and got them. Gunnar asked if all the cheering meant that we wanted one more and several of us told them we’d take as many more as they’d play. 😉 Ragnar told us the  next song was one they used to sing in the car to challenge themselves and get their voices warmed up – glad they decided to make it part of their concert. ‘And so it goes’ was stunning. I adore that song and the way they sing it. When they stepped off stage, peopel were cheering for more until thy told us they’d do one in the crowd and ended the show with ‘Góda veslu göra skal’.

It had been a Wonderful night and I spent some time chatting with each of them. I also bought all the vinyls I was missing and got them signed. Since Jan-Samuel didn’t play on any of them (my copy of Nivalis was at home) I decided he could sign the first album. He felt honored  and said I had knighted him with tha request. The atmosphere was relaxed and everyone was happy. For the first time in a very long time the guys were planning to go out and invited me along. My heart bled because I had to decline, considering there was a bus to catch in only a few hours and I had to work the next day. I know there will be other times, but it would have been nice to go along and drink to a successful tour. As it was, I said goodbye to Guillaume and Jean-Samuel, got a few more hugs and was happy I was going to see the rest of them again in Reykjavik. Soon…

Setlist

Himinhvel
Ljóð í sand
Passion
Circus
Bæn einstæðingsins
Ages
Kill Us
Heiðin
Síðasta kveðjan

La Follia (String piece by Corelli)
Órói
Jólin alls staðar
Hin fyrstu jól
Heyr himna smiður
Krummavisur
Nú gleymist ég
Mute
Things You Said
While This Way
Shades

Encore:
And so it goes
Góda veslu göra skal

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Tiny venue, stories about Daníel’s couch and giggle fits

Árstíðir – Chmury, Warsaw; December 15th, 2019

For the third time this year I found myself in Warsaw, yet again at a different venue, yet again for one of my favorite bands. With their Christmas tour in full swing, Árstíðir made a stop in Poland and this was the only weekend gig I could attend. They made it well worth the trip and created some magic like only they can. The songs came alive for me that night and more often than not I closed my eyes to really feel them. It was beautiful.

Getting up in London at 5 am, having hardly slept, I didn’t feel much like traveling. all went smoothly though and when I finally arrived in Warsaw around 2 pm all I wanted to do was sleep. So I did. 😀 Made me feel much better. Went out for food and returned to my hostel briefly, then got to the venue around a quarter to seven. Was surprised by the long line of people until I realized there was something else going on next door. The cafe at the venue was open and I peeked into the tiny hall. Waved hello to the guys who didn’t even have a backstage and were having dinner behind the merch table. Sat down for a while, chatting with a woman from the US who just happened to have a layover in Warsaw on her way home and wanted to see them for the first time.

Got in line, chatted with Ragnar for a bit until Gunnar stole him away from me 😉 and finally got in, claiming a front row spot. The stage was small and low, the room didn’t feel much bigger than my living room. I sat down on the stage and waited for K. to arrive, but first to get you was A. and then K.’s mom. We all stood together chatting until showtime. Since it was somewhat dark and I was too close anyway, I decide dto rest the camera and just enjoy the show for once – wise choice!

After 16 or so shows done, the guys feel comfortable with their setlist and it shows. Everything runs smoothly and they have really fine tuned the music. I always enjoy seeing gigs earlier and later in the tour to witness how the show evolves. This one works really well now and, as Gunnar pointed out to me after, they did not exchange songs, they added some. They sure did after Zurich and I loved it. 🙂

As they started that night, I wasn’t convinced though. ‘Himinhvel’ sounded somewhat distorted in the beginning and I feared it was going to stay like that. Luckily I was wrong and the sound improved greatly during the first song already. 🙂 From ‘Ljóð í sand’ onwards everything was fine. I closed my eyes and listened, having the music take me back to the early years. All was good and it made me so happy. 🙂 The lights were sparse, but nice and made room for the projections in the back. Watching the images and words appearing across the guys’ faces made me smile. it was going to be a good night.

Gunnar made introductions, telling us they’d been touring for almost three weeks and how happy they were to be back in Warsaw. He spoke a little of what was going to happen during this Christmas show, before they played a few more Nivalis songs. I loved ‘Passion’ and after they went straight into a gorgeous rendition of ‘Circus’. In Strasbourg sRagnar had told me they were still working on the live version of this one. I really like it the way it is, especially the strings and the piano. <3

It got christmassy with ‘Bæn einstæðingsins’ and it almost sounded like it was being sung in a church – beautiful. Again I stood there with my eyes closed, letting the music ring through me. Afterwards Ragnar tried out all the Polish words he knew, which weren’t many, but as he said enough to order hot dogs at gas stations. We learned a bit about traditional Icelandic music and the fact that they sing sad songs on happy occasions. Then it was time for the first album and ‘Ages’ – while the string players sat in the back the first time i saw the show they now stood with the others, Guilaume even playing the cello standing up. 🙂 The song always has spoken to me.

We then heard stories about Daníel’s couch and his home brewed wine, which had a good label, but the taste was not up to it apparently. ‘Kill us’ followed with just Gunnar, Daníel and Ragnar around the central mic. The told us of writing a song about hope. We all laughed when Ragnar tried to untangle his in-ear from his hair and needing some time, commenting “and why do I have such long hair”. ‘Heiðin’ may not sound all that hopeful to some, but it sure sounded great. 🙂

Already it was time for the last song in the first set and I braced myself for ‘Síðasta kveðjan’ – I always have to, it still hits me hard if in the best possible way. It is always gorgeous and it always brings me close to tears. I alternated between watching the guys work and closing my eyes, getting lost in the music. Somehow there is no more perfect song in their catalogue that introduced you to everything they are about from the beautiful strings to the dramatic changes in tempo the song is masterpiece. <3

Guillaume and Jean-Samuel were back on stage first and got their moment in the spotlight playing Corelli’s ‘La Follia’ – after the gig I finally asked Guillaume what it was called and he also explained that it is a much longer piece with room for improvisation that they made fit. It is awesome and really highlights their talent. I would not mind listening to more of that. ‘Oroi’ followed and then Daníel and Gunnar came back on stage for ‘Jólin alls staðar’. 🙂 And since one happy Christmas song was not enough, we got ‘Hin fyrstu jól’ too. I was so happy they kept that one. ‘Heyr himna smiður’ made a lot of people happy – it always does.

The lesson in music history continued 😉 and we heard that ‘Heyr himna smiður’ was voted the most popular choir song in Iceland recently. I always enjoy the music lesson especially with the guys giving an example of parallel fifth. It makes me think of the long talk on this topic that Ragnar did in Russia before his shows last year. This time it made me grin that he pronounced ‘Chopin’ wrong and kept looking at Guillaume, wondering if he was going to correct him. Probably after the show. 😛

‘Nú gleymist ég’ was as brilliant as always and I really loved ‘Mute’ that night. No idea why, but the song spoke volumes to me all of a sudden. <3 I also enjoyed just watching the guys work, looking at whoever was singing or playing a part that is special to me. ‘Things you said’ carried me right down memory lane. I’ve heard that song so many times in so many different places and in such different states of mind, that it can make me either happy or sad. This night was a mixture of both. After the song, Ragnar introduced Guillaume and Jean-Samuel, speaking of everything the French guys bring to the band. Then he claimed they play more in Poland and other countries than in Iceland and K. and I just shook our heads. Outside Iceland is right, but certainly not in Poland. 😉

Much too soon we had reached the end of the concert with the brilliant ‘While this way’ and the amazing ‘Shades’. Somewhere earlier on, people had started clapping before the song was really over and now, after ‘While this Way’ they waited for a moment to be sure it was really over. Gunnar spoke about how after being on the road together for so long, they found new ways of communication and did not even need to speak-  somehow A. and I could not stop giggling at that. I have no idea if it was the way he said it, or what else, but it was a true giggle fit. 😀 ‘Shades’ seems to be getting better each time – I just love those drums! <3

Since they had nowhere to go, the guys just stayed on stage and went almost directly into the encores. ‘And so it goes’ was stunningly beautiful. What a great song it is. I am so happy they added that one to the set. Of course they could not leave us on a sad not and went into the audience for ‘Góda veslu göra skal’ –  when Gunnar announced they were going to play one last Christmas song, someone yelled “Play some Jingle Bells” and Daníel actually started singing the beginning of it, until Gunnar explained that what they had in mind was much older. It is still the perfect show closer.

we hung out for a while after, chatted with the guys and each other, hugged. I tried to find the American woman, but she must have left directly after the show. Would have loved to know what she though. It was a good night and I thanked them all for it. One more to go for me on this tour…

Setlist

Himinhvel
Ljóð í sand
Passion
Circus
Bæn einstæðingsins
Ages
Kill Us
Heiðin
Síðasta kveðjan

La Follia (String piece by Corelli)
Órói
Jólin alls staðar
Hin fyrstu jól
Heyr himna smiður
Krummavisur
Nú gleymist ég
Mute
Things You Said
While This Way
Shades

Encore:
And so it goes
Góda veslu göra skal

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