Ragnar Ólafsson & Isabelle Saadat – Dortmund; October 2nd, 2019
It’s been a long time coming and now it’s here
(Bruce Springsteen – Long Time Coming)
Seeing Ragnar Ólafsson and Isabelle Saadat play in my living room was a dream coming true. It was everything I could have hoped for and so much more than I had imagined. I heard beautiful new songs by Isabelle, familiar songs by Ragnar in a new version, I laughed lots and I was very much in awe. The concert was heartfelt, the audience was appreciative and it left me so happy I could have burst. What a great night that was. <3
So what does it feel like when one of your favorite artists (and one of your best friends) plays a concert in your living room for you and a few selected guests? How do you cope? I didn’t know the answer to either of these questions when I asked Ragnar about two years ago if he’d ever consider playing a living-room show for me. He said “Yes” without hesitation by the way, but under the condition that he needed to be in Germany anyway. Thus, I was sure it wasn’t going to happen any time soon as Árstíðir tours are way too busy to have an extra show on the side and they rarely play near me anyway. Imagine my surprise when I got an email in late July saying Ragnar was putting a German tour together with Isabelle and what would I think of a house show between October 2nd and 10th? Great news! Terrible timing! I already had 5 concerts scheduled that week plus a work thing. Long story short, I did not want to pass it up and suggested October 2nd, right after the end of Ragnar’s tour in Poland and before a public holiday. I checked in about it in early August and it sounded like the tour was concentrating on Southern Germany so I mentally put this in the “not gonna happen” – box. In late August I learned that I should not have doubted my friend. “Is a house concert on October 2nd at your place still an option?” the text read. Hell yes!
We skyped about it briefly and the show was on the road. There were things to plan and people to invite. I’d had a list of friends and acquaintances I wanted to come since I first asked. While I thought it would be difficult for those from outside my own country with only five weeks planning time, I thought the gig date ideal for Germans, who mostly would not have to work the next day. Well, not so much as most of them already had other plans. That left room for new people though and in the end, with Isa’s family, Raggi’s friends and my people, I expected just under 20. Nice group size I thought and decided to cook for everyone.
From then on I walked about with a stupid cartoonish smile on my face (grenzdebiles Grinsen as my friends and I had once dubbed that expression) and was in full preparation mode. Time went fast, I took the day off and decorated my living room, getting more nervous as the day went on. How was it going to go? What would my guests think? I trusted Raggi to take over any crowd, but I had never heard Isa’s music so I did not know what to expect. Wait and see was the only option and everyone who knows me, knows how I hate waiting.
They had planned to arrive at my place around 17:30 – that left them with two hours to set up and eat before the guests arrived. Heavy traffic made them almost an hour late, but at least I had dinner ready by then. 😉 Hugs, food, setting up, sharing stories and last minute rehearsals all happened in an hour when the first guest arrived – C. and fandeer Pam. Shortly after 8 most others were there, A. had brought a video camera for me to use and everyone hung out and talked for a while.
Despite my best efforts to relax I was nervous and I would be until a few songs into the show. There was nothing to be done about it. As parties usually go, this one took place in the kitchen until a few minutes before show time. I went and told them they had five minutes too! 😀 Eventually everyone settled and when it turned 8:30, I made a quick announcement and let Isa and Raggi have the stage for the evening.
Isa made a short introduction and said she’d speak English tonight. Raggi asked who spoke Icelandic and said he’d stick with English too. I challenged him jokingly to try German. Isa was surprised he knew German and he said “Ich kann ein Brötchen verstehen” (I can understand a bread roll). Everyone laughed and Isa had to explain the joke to him. Of course he had meant to say “ein bisschen” (a little). 😀 They started with Isa’s songs and I was immediately taken by her voice and the music. It was wonderful. She played guitar while Raggi played piano and they harmonized beautifully. <3 It made me tremendously happy that I liked Isa’s music so much.
After Isa had finished the wonderful ‘Karma’ and ‘ The South’ they switched places and continued with Raggi’s songs. ‘Dozen’ was gorgeous and I was especially impressed with ‘Dragonfly’ – he had changed the lyrics, added another verse or at least a few lines and the music had evolved too. Finally I clicked with the song. *sigh* The rest of the audience sounded just as happy as I was, clapping and cheering loudly. By now I felt comfortable and when he joked about drinking a lot of red wine at the time he made the album, I asked “only then, at that time?” 😀 ‘Wine’ was of course performed unplugged.
Since he got a solo song, Isa got one too and played ‘Running Down’. For the next one, Raggi was back at the piano and she introduced it as a song by her band that usually everyone would dance to so we should imagine drums and heavy guitars. Instead of drums she asked us to snap our fingers so we did. “It’s a song about space” she told us. It totally rocked! Next was the second “insect song” of the night, ‘Flying Mantis’ – C. already knew that one from Instagram and was happy to hear it. Isa told us a little bit how the song had come about. A friend wanted to write a song about a mantis, which led her to watch documentaries about them and eventually write a song. It was a good one too, even though she could not remember all of the lyrics just yet. I really liked the driving rhythm.
Raggi told us how they had learned each other’s songs and the metaphors they used to explain things to each other. For that one, Isa had used the term “it ends like shutter island, nobody knows what happened”. Interesting explanation, that one. It fit too. He said he was gonna do one on the piano and started joking about the audience having to sing, asking if I had instructed them. I replied I was afraid they would not come had I told them they’d have to sing. It was ‘Relations’ of course and he spoke about turning feelings into that song and still not knowing what it is about. When he introduced the sing-along part, Isa and I smiled at each other, because we both found it easier to sing along to the “guy voice”. It worked out nicely, having colleagues who regularly attend church services helps. 😉 Since he was already at the piano and into stories about being heartbroken he played ‘Red Wine’ next. We also heard that these type of songs did not fit with any of his bands so he had to write a solo album. This “saddest song on the album” is still one of the most beautiful ones too – it really does make the heartbreak palpable.
Just a week or so before the concert, Jägermeister had started selling a new liquor “Jägermeister hot ginger” and since Raggi always tells the story about “Jägermeister cinnamon vanilla” and this sounded even worse, I just had to buy a bottle. When I handed it to him after arrival, he started laughing and said he’d make a toast during the song. The look on his face was priceless. I ensured him, he did not actually have to drink it, but he insisted. Now he had arrived at the crucial point of the show. To our surprise, when he asked if anyone had ever tried the cinnamon vanilla variant one of my colleagues confirmed and Raggi instantly pitied him and wondered how he’d survived. He told the story about the US fucking up the good drink Jägermeister is. Then he mentioned the one I had bought and asked if anyone wanted to share. So many raised their hands that I had to get more shot glasses than I’d originally set out, so we could all have some spirit to get inspired. We toasted and the drink tasted surprisingly good. 🙂 ‘Bravery’, fueled by this, was brilliant of course. 😀
Isa joined him again for ‘Urges’ the title track of the solo album and he told us he likes her guitar better than his own. I could not tell any difference, but maybe playing it just feels better. The song worked nicely with piano and guitar and it occurred to me that I’m not really used to hearing it like that. The harmony singing was great as well. I love the variety it creates that he works with different musicians on different tours. Next up was ‘Petals’ with the explanation that he was trying to bring both parties’ perspective into the song, because it felt unfair to only have his voice on the album. Isa mastered it beautifully too. <3 The last song in the set then, was one of her own, ‘Little Lights’ and she talked about raindrops on her window and lights reflecting in them. I liked that one too and it had a really nice sing-along part. 🙂 We heard the story about how they met at Café Galao in Stuttgart and we all “awww”d appropriately when they said that this was the last song on the setlist.
They had reached the end of their set and it still felt a bit surreal to me that they were actually playing in my living room. It felt comfortable to have them there, but it still was a little bit like a dream. It was one coming true actually. After a moment of us clapping, Raggi said he knows I like a “Zugabe” and promised to play a few of his songs, since they had not prepared more songs together. He wanted us to sing something else – in Icelandic. I smiled, because I knew what was coming. It was the first time I heard that he’d written ‘Örlög’ for Árstíðir. It was great to have something Icelandic in the set and we all sang along well too. <3
He wanted to know if we had any requests and I asked for ‘Every Brick in Manhattan’ or ‘More will come along’. He decided on the former and told us the story about New York and wanting to count all the bricks. I’ve loved the song ever since I first heard it and I loved hearing it now. I asked about ‘Lost Creek’ too, but he didn’t feel like doing it and played ‘Southern Nights’ instead. It worked wonderfully and it is indeed one of the few happy songs he has. Of course he adorned it with all the stories about being on a boat and hanging with pirates. 😀 We learned that the Swedes say that “Everything has an end, only the sausage has two”. I explained that we say it in German too which led to P. spontaneousy singing “Alles had ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei” and then Raggi asking us if we knew “Mein Hut, der hat drei Ecken” so we all sang that. It was really funny.
To bring the concert to end, Raggi told us about murder ballads and sang us both of them, first Nick Cave’s ‘Where the wild Roses grow’ and them Ask the Slave’s ‘Sleep now’. Both were awesome. Of course I had not wanted the concert to end, but I knew it had to eventually. It was the perfect show and coincidentally the 250th time I had seen Raggi play, if I count his solo concerts and all the different bands I have seen. It could not have fit any better. I had wanted to have a living room show like this for a long time and the closer the moment came, the more nervous I got, but in the end, it could not have been any better and made me insanely happy. 😀
Of course the evening did not end here and quite a few of the guest stuck around chatting and eating. A lot of things were discussed and new living room concert opportunities arose right then and there. We took post gig selfies, Raggi and Isa posed with fandeer Pam, a few CDs were sold and we chatted until late into the night. There were lots of hugs and I even got to listen to an unmastered version of ‘A Minor Scratch’ that I had not heard since that one show in Reykjavik the previous year. It was gorgeous! Finally, around two in the morning, after all other guests had long gone, Raggi and Isa packed up and left. They even took the remaining open bottle of wine with them. 😉 Thank you both for making this happen and giving me the best concert ever. <3
Karma (Isabelle Saadat song)
The South (Isabelle Saadat song)
Running Down (Isabelle Saadat song)
Out of Space (Isabelle Saadat song)
Flying Mantis (Isabelle Saadat song)
Little Lights (Isabelle Saadat song)
Every Brick in Manhattan
Where the Wild Roses Grow (Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds cover)