Ragnar Ólafsson – Degu Stacja, Gdynia; February 15th, 2020
Ragnar Ólfasson’s 9th (!) tour in Poland was titled “Something new” – not that he had a new album out, but again he had written many new songs and also was not touring with David Ra Campari this time around so it was all going to feel different. Julia Szkrobek joined him once again though. Sadly, I had not been able to attend the first three gigs, but heard good things about them and was excited for days before I finally got there. It turned out to be a wonderful show at a lovely venue, where all the hints my friend K. had given beforehand, made perfect sense in the end and I was just tremendously happy to have been there. Such a great night it was.
Having decided to fly less this year and seek out alternative modes of travel whenever possible, I opted for going by train. It’s a long way from Dortmund to Gdynia, so I left my home shortly after 5 am and arrived at my final destination (Gdynia Orłowo station) about 12 hours later. It was mostly a nice trip though. I slept, read, got some blogging done and arrived rather relaxed. My hotel was nice and the venue not far away, near the train station. It was a dark road leading me there roughly two hours later and it was a bit scary walking all alone, the place looking a a little run down and uninhabited from the outside. Once we got in it was lovely though, with living room vibes and nice people. Raggi greeted me with a hug and we briefly chatted before he retreated to rest a little bit after a long day of interviews and promo. Soon the place was packed and I even spotted an Árstíðir T-Shirt in the crowd.
It was after 8:30 when the concert started with ‘SSDD’ – for the first time in a long time he even explained the title to us. To my surprise I realized that the song works even without the violin I have gotten so used to. I must admit though that I had been hoping for a different start. Somehow I’d expected the whole setlist to be shaken up and replaced by new songs. I have no clue why I even had the idea, but when the show continued with ‘Wine’ and then ‘Deva’ I felt a tad disappointed, since I had heard those same songs in that same order for many shows now. Something just felt off and I could not quite put my finger on it. I caught myself thinking I should not have expected so much and started going down that rabbit hole in my mind. It was a pity, because I had been looking forward to this concert so much and now I had trouble getting into it. At the same time I was aware that I had absolutely no reason to feel that way. The venue was nice, the sound was great and teh crowd was good too. What was wrong with me?
What I usually do in these situations is trying to enjoy it anyway, so I made an extra effort to listen and sing along and get myself out of that weird mood. The first time I really smiled was when Raggi said that making music was just an excuse to tell stories and how you have to experience many things to have a story to tell. True that and I love his stories, love how he is making little changes to keep them interesting. For ‘Wine’ he used a “guitarlele” he had brought in addition to his regular guitar. It sounded nice. During ‘Deva’ something unusual happened. Ragnar stopped playing and asked some people if they were done talking, otherwise they could go outside. He hadn’t done anything like that in a long time. He has every right to ask people to listen of course, what surprised me was that I hadn’t noticed. My head was elsewhere since the song always brings up memories. Anyway, it seemed like the vibes in the room were just a little off in that moment. That one incident was it though, it somehow cleared the air and everything got a lot better after that.
Raggi spoke about how a song can be like a spell or a form of prayer sometimes. Makes sense to me. He then randomly mentioned the latest Rambo movie – or so I thought until I discovered that one of the pictures on the venue’s wall was indeed Rambo and he was, as he noted later, staring at him. He invited Julia to join him on stage to play a few break-up songs (his words, not mine) and they started out with ‘Dozen’. I was singing along and finally started feeling better about the show. Consequently, ‘War’ was introduced as “break-up song number two” of the evening and he described how after a relationship ends you start questioning everything, including your life choices and are at war with yourself. Julia singing harmonies was a great addition to the song.
The next song was the one that changed everything, turning a so far only nice concert into a brilliant one. He told us it was newish and going to be on the second solo album, then turned to me with a smiled and announced ‘A Minor scratch’. It was an “Oh my God” moment for me, because I really had not been expecting to hear this one again. It was just as beautiful as I remembered and cut me just as deeply. They performed it brilliantly too. <3 After that Julia left stage and sat down again for a while.
We looked and grinned at each other after he asked who had tried Jägermeister cinnamon vanilla, the worst drink of his life. This time it was described as a “Jägermeister mutation that tastes like you mix Jägermeister with cinnamon, vanilla, tons of sugar and the bad nightmares of Franz Kafka”. I don’t think I’d ever be desperate enough to try it. 😉 ‘Bravery’ rocks though – it does in general and it did that night. It is always one of my highlights. The way to gain experiences to write songs according to Raggi is “travel, get yourself in trouble, eat something really nasty, get sick and be inspired by it.” He spoke about Patreon then and how he promised to write four songs for us and dedicated the next one, ”Mexico’ to all the Patrons in the house. Before he played it though, he just had to mention that he visited the city of Tequila and now never wants to drink it again in his life. I’m not sure yet if I liked the song or not. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t not like it either – definitely curious where this work in progress is going to go. I was reminded of ‘Southern Nights’ and rightfully so, because after the show he described it as the sister song to this.
We got a little Icelandic lesson before being asked if we wanted to hear something angry or something romantic. Most voted for angry, which surprised Raggi. His choice of song then surprised me, it was ‘A Prayer’ – I had wanted him to put that back on the setlist for ages so it made me very happy. It has always been one of my favorites and I loved it. Before ‘Walls’ he needed to retune his guitar, because he cannot have several guitars with him. The song is still as beautiful as when I first heard it and here too, it works just fine without the violin.
“Are you going to sing with me in Icelandic?” he wanted to know and someone said “we try”. It was the right idea and turned out that “lalala” is not so hard to sing in any language. Julia was back on stage for ‘Örlög’ and helped us sing. It was just lovely. Raggi introduced Bartek to us, saying he was crazy enough to book his first tour in Poland and how they have become friends since. He then invited him on stage to play the tiny keyboard for ‘Dragonfly’. It was fun seeing him on stage and a good addition to the song. Julia did a perfect job on the vocals too and there was a subtle change in the lyrics. Not sure yet if it was intentional, but I liked it. Before ‘Petals’ Ragnar talked about how breakups are always both people’s fault, because it takes two to tango and two to fuck things up, so he was trying to tell both sides of the story with the song and it worked. I loved it, I always do.
After that, there was only one song to go. It was unexpected, because it had not felt that long at all. “The last song in the set will be the last song on my second album” – ‘The Message’. Again it gave me goosebumps to hear them perform it together. <3 We did not let them go so easily and cheered loudly for more. ‘Southern Nights’ was the first song in the encore and after Raggi instructed us to imagine being at a football stadium, cheering on our team, we became the perfect background choir – “better than Warsaw,” he claimed. It made me laugh, because he said it was a game Poland against Germany. 😀 The song had been released as a single that day and it still amazes me how much it has evolved since I first heard it on the Faroe Islands. Since he was so happy with our performance, he decided to play two more songs for us. First ‘Where the wild Roses grow’, this time with Julia, who turned it into a great performance, and then ‘Sleep now’. During that he walked around the room, kicked over one of his – luckily empty – wine glasses and climbed up on a table in the end. That’s the way that we wanna go! 😀 So in the end it was just what I had hoped for – a wonderful show!
A few people came to buy CDs, take pictures and chat. All the Patrons in the room were hugged and after everyone else had left we sat down with some whiskey & cola (the wine was all sold out) and talked until it was time to pack up. I got to hear some amazing Mexico stories and we generally caught up on what had happened since December. It was a lovely way to end the evening and there were loads of warm hugs before I left. Back at my hotel I spent a lot of time lying awake, happily thinking back on that conversation. Thank you for everything Raggi, I will see you soon.
A Minor Scratch
Where the wild Roses grow
Ragnar Ólafsson – Something New Tour – one gig down, nine to go. Next stop: Krakow