“We’re in need of two string players”

Árstíðir – Kex hostel, Reykjavik; February 20th, 2014

Everything about this concert was perfect from the beginning and long before I arrived I knew it would be something special. For years now I’ve had a thing about seeing my favorite bands on their home turf and this was no exception. I always feel there is a certain magic to seeing a band play at home. I can’t really describe what it is, but I feel it every time. However this one was so much more than crossing seeing Árstíðir in their own country off my bucket list. Of course you can argues now that I already did this last Christmas anyway, but that was not a regular concert. : ) Anyway, it was everything I had hoped for and so much more – I can’t imagine anyone who was there not falling in love with their music if they’ve it has not been the case already.

When the announced the concert in early January I immediately knew this could be my chance, because usually they announce concerts in Reykjavik much too late to get an affordable flight. Found a flight, checked my work schedule to make sure and booked right away. It meant going the long way around via Frankfurt and even a stopover in Copenhagen on the way in, but the only thing that mattered was being there for the concert. I did tell a few people I was planning to travel there, but I kept the information from the band because I wanted to surprise them. The closer I got to the travel date, the harder it became, because all I wanted was to shout to the world “I’ll see my guys again so very soon and the thought alone makes me tremendously happy!” Not that I really expect the guys to stalk me on Twitter, but I kept it off there just in case. 😉

On travel day I got up in the middle of the night and set out for my long journey. Arrived in Reykjavik with no trouble. The weather was pretty ugly with rain and strong winds. I too a quick walk, got some groceries and retreated to bed early. Woke up early and full of excitement the next day, which I spent on Reykjavik sightseeing. All the while I was afraid I’d run into one of the guys by accident, but luckily that did not happen.

There was conflicting information as to when the concert was supposed to start, but Kex hostel told me it would be 8 pm so I went with that. Got there 1.5 hours before, because I was too nervous to stay at my hostel any longer. At the reception they told me where it was going to be and I probably could have just walked in, but I’m still shy when it comes to entering through a closed door uninvited. Thus I sat down on a bench with the doors in sight and read a magazine I found on a nearby table. A lot of people walked past me, but I didn’t look up all the time. Somewhere between 7 and 7:30 I heard the doors open and my first thought was: “That could be one of them”, but instead of looking up I kept reading. Two people walked past me and I was thinking “OK, it wasn’t one of them after all”, when suddenly one of the two stopped, took a few steps back and I heard an all too familiar voice “Stefanie?” Ragnar! I looked up, smiling, then got to my feet to hug him. Linda was next and shortly I met all the others. It made me especially happy to see Hallgrímur among them. All of them hugged and the happy-surprised smiles on their faces alone made it all worthwhile. 🙂

The guys ordered food and went back inside for one last rehearsal of some brand new songs. I snuck in with them even though that meant hearing the songs before they were played live for the first time. It didn’t matter, I loved everything I heard from the first moment on. I stuck around while the guys had dinner chatting with whoever wanted to chat, feeling immediately at home with them. They decided to practice some more and possibly opening the doors at 8. The practicing did happen, but the doors remained closed for a bit longer. People kept looking in from time to time but they all walked back out when they realized rehearsals were still in progress.

Eventually the doors opened and the place filled up quickly. Sure, a lot of people were friends, but there still was a good crowd. And even though the question was never asked I assumed that many of them hadn’t seen Árstíðir before. Anyway, the place was packed when the guys started. Didn’t pay attention to the time, but I guess it was around 9. First Karl asked how many in the room spoke Icelandic and it turned out to be about half the people. Thus, they decided to speak English (lucky me) Karl happily joked that at least now Ragnar could understand him, because he had just been to the states. Gunnar chimed in trying to imitate an American accent and then joking he could only speak English like a true Icelander (with a strong accent). It was funny and set the mood for the rest of the night.

They started with ‘Ró’, a brand new instrumental song. It was lovely. Next up was ‘Heiðin’, which remained the only Icelandic song for some time. I was so into listening to the music that I almost forgot taking pictures. I had missed them, had missed the beautiful music that fills me up and turns me inside out. By now I recognize ‘You just have to know of me’ by the string intro. Remembering when they first played it this way made me smile. Such a wonderful song. ‘Cannon’ was next. Another brand new song and the only one I had walked out on during rehearsals, because it immediately hit me straight in the heart and I wanted to save that one for the concert. Wow, just wow. Instant favorite. <3

The smile on my face grew bigger with every song. Here I was, once again letting the music carry me, my eyes closed, just listening. Judging by the sounds of approval, the rest of the audience loved the concert just as much. What a treat to hear not only old songs, but so many new ones. ‘Ages’ was next, followed by ‘Days and Nights’ about which Karl joked that they called it days in summer and nights in winter and nobody who didn’t live in Iceland could understand that. 🙂 They continued mixing old and new with ‘Moonlight’, a ballad that sounds quite sad, but I do admit I didn’t pay much attention to the lyrics. I rather liked the fact that it starts in English but ends in Icelandic. ‘Shades’ ended the first set and for the first time since I know these guys, ‘Tárin’ didn’t follow. I was under the impression these songs were inseparable, but they are not. It felt a little bit like deliberately cutting all traces of Jón out of the band, but to reinvent themselves the guys might just have to do that. The new setlist surely worked better for me than the previous one, but I can’t really say if that is only because it is fresh or if it fits better with the band Árstíðir are now.

They took a break and I went out to get a drink. Found Jón in conversation with Hallgrímur so I went over for a quick hello. I hadn’t expected to see all six of the guys this time around so this was a nice surprise. When I returned to my seat, Karl was still standing at the bar.  A bit later, the others wanted to continue so they called out for the string players. Since it took a while for them to find their way back it was time for telling jokes again. I can’t say if the jokes or the telling of them is funnier, but it was quite amusing. 😉

Finally Hallgrímur and Karl were back and Daníel announced that with new songs, one should learn new instruments too, picking up a slide guitar. Consequently the song was titled ‘Slide lag’, for the time being anyway. Ragnar added that they had finished this at midnight the previous night. It was another song I instantly loved – the melody is just beautiful and the words have that special magic that most of the Icelandic songs hold for me.  🙂 Gunnar announced ‘Sunday Morning’ as “a song from a country where it rains even more than in Iceland”. For ‘Orð að eigin vali’ Karl was on the piano and took the opportunity to tease Ragnar about it. “This is easy, I don’t understand why Raggi practices so much”. Rangar returned the favor making a joke about a violin player standing outside in the rain, “because he can’t find the key and has no clue when to get in”. 😀 They sure were in a good mood.

This night the guys were spoiling us with new songs and we got three more in a row: ‘Shine’, ‘Eris’ and Gunnar’s song they had played last summer and which by now had been dubbed ‘Júli lag’. It was my favorite part of the show and I love all three of them. ‘Shine’ has evolved to a point where it is just perfect for the full band and still retains the core of just the baritone guitar and piano. ‘Eris’, announced by Gunnar as “If you thought that was weird, you should hear the next one” still amazes me as much as it did the first time I heard it in Hamburg and ‘Júli lag’ has the most lovely string arrangement. It was introduced with a nice story about the first time they rehearsed the song in a garden in the Czech Republic. I was in fan haven! Somewhere during the last few songs the endpin of Hallgrímur’s cello fell out and he used it to poke Karl in the back. 😉 The set ended with ‘Nú geymist ég’ and the powerful ‘Kill us’. Perfect, absolutely perfect!

Everyone in the room yelled, screamed and clapped for more so the guys returned for ‘Ljóð í sand’. I realized the song used to have a piano part that was now missing and wondered when that happened. It worked well though. Unfortunately they would not come back for another encore, but I am not complaining. This concert was beyond my wildest dreams and well worth the trip. Not only did they play the perfect selection of songs, they also sounded amazing. Their sound engineer really knows his trade.

Thus the concert left me happy and it did not occur to me until much later that they had not played any a cappella songs this time. I would like to have them back some time, but I did not miss them. Everything was just right! After the concert I told Karl and Ragnar that I liked the direction they are going in as a band now, I really do. <3

Setlist:


Heiðin
You just have to know of me
Cannon
Ages
Days and Nights
Moonlight
Shades

Slide lag
Sunday morning
Orð að eigin vali
Shine
Eris
Júli lag
Nú gleymist ég
Kill us

Encore
Ljóð í sand

I stayed for a long time, chatting watching, waiting. Some of the guys and Linda were going out for drinks, but I was too tired for that. The rest of the gang only waited for a ride home so I stuck around, laughed with them and finally said goodbye around 1 in the morning. When I got to my hotel I was wide awake of course. Too much happiness always keeps me up at night, but such sleepless nights are the best ones. <3

pictures of this concert

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