Ragnar Ólafsson – Café Rósenberg, Reykjavik; August 14th, 2020
I hear you’re feeling down
Well I can ease your pain
Get you on your feet again
(Pink Floyd – Confortably Numb)
Who would have thought that the only cover played at last night’s concert would offer the perfect lines to start this blog with? I have indeed been numb for a while – but didn’t realize how comfortable that was. Yes, the concert was everything I wanted it to be and brought me so much joy, making me realize all the more how much I had missed my life on tour. Yet, it also opened such a floodgate of emotions that I don’t know how to deal with right now. Getting me on my feet again was only a small part – remaining upright is the difficult bit.
I’m not OK, I have not been for quite some time and somehow, finally having live music in my life again was supposed to fix all of that. It did, sort of, just not in the way I expected it to. Don’t get me wrong, it was a wonderful night, making me laugh and cry, giving me goosebumps and making me literally shake for a while. Ragnar, Solveig and Kjartan delivered everything I hoped for and then some and I honestly would not have wanted to miss this for the world. It was all about making me feel again and in that sense I got what I wanted. Little did I know that it would be a lot more than I bargained for.
With the indescribably joy of finally getting back what I have missed most in the past six months comes the unbearable pain of having it taken away again right after. Yes, I know there are more concerts scheduled this year, I even have tickets for a few, but with the current situation being as it is, I do not have much hope that any of those will actually happen – or, even worse, I will not be able to attend. Now I’m no stranger to emotional roller-coasters. In fact they are part of this crazy life I lead and I have long accepted that as a fact. Right now though? I need a break.
But I guess you didn’t come here to read about the state of my mental health (read: barely holding it together) so onwards to the actual concert…
Shortly after I returned home from Ragnar’s last show in Poland back in February, everything ground to a halt and was shut down due to Covid-19. I had so many concerts planned and they were all either canceled or postponed. When Iceland slowly started having concerts again in June I spent days crying, because I could not make it there to see Árstíðir play and just at the time I had planned a trip to Reykjavík, Covid was on the rise again and it looked like I might not even be able to go. Ragnar was so nice to plan a concert during my stay, but neither of us knew for sure it was going to happen and I had lost most of my hope for live music this year months ago. But then, miraculously, everything came together and it was beautiful.
As usual, I arrived at the venue ridiculously early. Not that I don’t know Icelanders usually show up late, but I wasn’t taking any chances. There were only going to be 40 tickets. So there I was, sitting at the relocated and reopened Café Rósenberg, enjoying delicious soup for dinner and waiting for everyone else to arrive. While I waited, it occurred to me that it was somewhat poetic that my so far last show this year had been one of Ragnar’s and now the first show after the long break was as well. It was also the 60th solo show for me. Kjartan was first to get there, amused to find me already there and we chatted a bit while he set up his guitars. Time passed quickly, Ragnar and Solveig arrived as well and eventually I got to listen to soundcheck. My heart! They sounded amazing.
Slowly, more people walked in, including lots of familiar faces. C. arrived and sat with me so we could catch up for a bit. By the time the guys got on stage, the place was about half filled. It was considerably less anxiety inducing than I had expected. Since we are still in a pandemic it feels uncomfortable to be in crowds, even if they are socially distanced. The moment after I’d told C. that I wasn’t going to film that night, because I wanted to enjoy the concert, Ragnar set a camera on the table in front of me and asked me to film. Oh well… 😀
It took me a few songs to even realize it was actually happening and this really was a live concert with me and the musicians in the same room. It was beautiful, but also felt all sorts of weird at first. Live music is such a big part of my life that I needed to shut down my feelings when the opportunity was taken away from me. In order to deal with all the pain in my heart I had become numb. The emotions came back slowly, gradually sneaking up on me, but when they finally arrived there was no room for anything else. No thoughts on my mind any more, just my heart overflowing with everything I had not felt in six months. Good thing I still had the camera to take care of, otherwise I might have gotten lost there. 😉
They started with ‘Deva’ which immediately gave Kjartan a chance to show his amazing guitar skills. The song sounded so much richer with two guitars and Ragnar’s singing was top notch from the start. Before the song was over a huge smile had spread on my face. What felt like an endless time of longing came to an end. I had missed this so much.
From there we moved on to Mexico – country as well as song. Even though Ragnar spoke almost exclusively in Icelandic, I understood the gist of what he was saying. Knowing the stories helped of course. 😉 We heard a little bit about his travels back in January and Palenque was next. I loved hearing both songs, especially in the two guitar arrangements.
It was time to ask Solveig on stage and I guess Raggi told the story of how they first recorded together, because at one point everyone was laughing. They sang ‘Dozen’ and ‘Petals’ together and everything about the songs was perfect. I love all the duets and that night they sounded absolutely wonderful. Solveig really has the perfect voice for them. With a deep sigh I allowed myself to get lost in the music, singing along quietly in order not to screw up the recoding.
‘A Prayer’ was next and came as a surprise to me, because it is so rarely played. It is such a great song, one of my favorites on the album and I could feel its power surging through me. That night I related to it on a new level, now being very familiar with repetitive thought patterns running wild in my mind, a prayer indeed, but not the good kind. Kjartan’s playing seemed to get better with every song and it was already perfect to begin with. He just added the right amount of guitar to everything. With ‘Muddy Waters’ there was even some slide guitar to be heard. 😀 Remembering the story behind that song I just could not stop grinning. Finally the set ended with ‘Bravery’ with the story noticeably short this time around. It was brilliant!
The “ten minutes or so” break was more like 25 but who’s counting? 😉 It was good to digest what I had heard so far and compose myself. It still felt like being in a dream, but this was real and I considered myself lucky to be there.
Round two started off with Ragnar solo on the guitarlele for ‘Wine’. He kept his earlier promise to speak English during the second set. He took the opportunity to introduce himself even though I don’t think it was necessary. The song then was introduced by explaining how much of an inspiration heartbreak can be. It was delivered perfectly and no strings were broken on the way.
Kjartan was back on stage and Ragnar talked more about the trip to Mexico “back when Covid was still a rumor and life was real”. He spoke about the Mexican high plains and how the song ‘Time’ came to him sitting on the back of a pickup truck, crossing said plain. He also mentioned the city of Tequila and the hangover it caused. 😉 Funnily enough I had almost forgotten about the song and was happy about the reminder. Raggi was a bit nervous playing it, because it was the live premiere, but there was no need to be. 😀
Somewhere early in the second set it finally got through to me that I was really there and the emotional rollercoaster really started taking off. Mixed in with the happiness I felt was so much grief for all the lost time without concerts and so much worry about when and if I was going to get another chance to hear live music that I got almost overwhelmingly sad.
The next one of course was very familiar – ‘Needle and Thread’. I still enjoy the song just as much as I did when I first heard it and Kjartan added an extra kick to it. We heard about Tennessee, how inspiring Nashville was, and the album written in Lost Creek with a side of Fender guitar history because Kjartan exchanged the Telecaster for a Startocaster at that point. He introduced ‘Water’ with the word “I had a motorcycle accident and wrote song about it. The thing that still freaks me out is that I wrote the song before the accident happened.” I closed my eyes when they started playing to contain the emotions and finally let the tears come. The beauty was almost too much to bear. <3
Before they played it, Kjartan had started with a Pink Floyd lick and Raggi had hinted we might hear more of that later. They kept that promise and played an awesome version of ‘Comfortably Numb’ for us. Not only was it the perfect cover to play that night as so many of the words spoke to me, but it also broke the sadness and made me laugh again. It happened when Kjartan attempted singing harmonies and Raggi barely managed to sing on because he had to laugh about it. 😀 The guitar playing was flawless of course!
Solveig was back for ‘Minor Scratch’ and I remembered the first time I had heard the song at Dillon over two years ago. Since then it has only gotten better and I fell in love with it back then already. They all delivered it so perfectly that I started shaking just listening to it. Too many emotions. Afterwards Ragnar was looking for his capo and made me smile when he talked about the memes of lost guitar picks and capos after the first photographs of a black hole had been taken. They ended the set with the new single ‘Message’ and the shaking was back. The song is absolutely goosebump inducing.
Instead of walking off stage and coming back they just stayed and ‘Southern Nights’ became the final song of the night with everyone singing along too. Raggi and I had a moment here, looking at each other and singing the outtro together. The concert could not have in any better way.
What a night that was. It also needs to be mentioned that at some point the police showed up – two tall, bulky guys and for a moment I feared they were going to shut us down, but after watching for a while and deciding we were few enough people and distanced enough they left again. Solveig had heard their discussion though and told us they needed a little bit of convincing. Good thing I was too far away to hear anything. I would have worried way too much. 😐 All is well that ends well though. 🙂
Since all bars have to close at 11 pm, there was not much time left after the show. Enough to briefly chat with everyone I knew, talk about how much I had enjoyed the show and say goodbye. No long post gig conversations over drinks just yet, but there will be times when we get to properly socialize again.
Now, a day later all the emotions are still with me and the night after the show they kept me from sleeping. I was too wound up for it and still high with happiness. In the morning the emotional hangover set in and I felt incredibly sad. Not so much because the concert was over, but because I have no idea when I will get to see the next one. Sure, I have plans, but right now, these things can change on a daily basis. As it is, I am deeply grateful for what I had and this concert has restored some much needed hope that this too shall pass and eventually I can pick up my life again. Until then, the good memories will keep me going.
Needle and Thread