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…
Ljóð í sand
La Follia (String piece by Corelli)
Jólin alls staðar
Hin fyrstu jól
Heyr himna smiður
Nú gleymist ég
Things You Said
While This Way
And so it goes
Góda veslu göra skal