Svavar Knúrur / One Eye Open – Bürgerbahnhof, Wuppertal; May 16th 2014
Seeing Svavar Knútur and One Eye Open in Wuppertal was an evening of contrasts that blended surprisingly well, enjoyable music, lots of laughs and lovely people. For me it was also a trip down memory lane on several levels, all of them wonderful.
The best way to get introduced to Svavar Knútur is being dragged to a concert by friends – I can promise you you’ll have fun, but I still find it difficult to describe the appeal. You’ll have to go and see for yourself. For me this happened on a beautiful summer evening in Toronto in June of last year. After their second show at NXNE I was hanging out with my friends from Árstíðir when they asked me if I wanted to come along to a concert of one of their friends. The description used was something along the lines of “His songs are so sad they will make you cry, but in between he tells stories that will make you laugh.” It sounded like a weird combination, but most of all it sounded like fun so of course I agreed. That’s how I first saw Svavar. Needless to say I loved his performance so much that I knew I wanted to see him again and I’ve kept an eye on his tourdates ever since.
So finally, almost exactly 11 months after seeing him play for the first time, I went to Wuppertal to see him again. The venue was also familiar: It was the same place Árstíðir had performed last September. When I arrived I took a good look around the train station and remembered how they had walked out there for an impromptu performance of ‘Heyr, himna smiður’ that night and all the Internet hype that followed. The sweet memories did not stop there. Once I entered the venue I was immediately recognized by the owners as having been there before and they even remembered when. 🙂
The venue had seats this time – comfortable sofas to lounge on and lots of chairs too. I took up a spot on a sofa in front row and waited curiously. I had never heard of One Eye Open, the support for the night and wondered what their music might be like. The whole concerts started a little late and we were told that Svavar had a train to catch after so they’d have to stop at a certain time. First we got to hear One Eye Open though.
I liked them instantly. Nice, singer/songwriter type music sung with a rough voice. They played guitar, percussion, banjo and a few other instruments too. Depending on the song they were either a trio or a quartet with a violin. All the songs worked really well, the sound was good and everyone in the room enjoyed it. There were some funny moments when they joked with each other about not having to tune the drums or how they would play mostly songs from their new album except for quite a few. In the end they even got us to sing along, because every tragic love song needs a choir in the end. They are a likable band with very listenable songs that I’d like to go and see again if I get the chance.
Svavar stepped on stage and I was smiling even before he said a word. There is just something about watching this big man with the bowtie picking a very small guitar that instantly makes me happy. 😀 He promised us he would not talk as much as usual and play the songs faster in order to get done in time to catch his train. The first promise let to a big “oooooooh” from the audience, the second resulted in laughter.
During the course of the evening he sang songs in English, Icelandic and German, played several guitars, told stories, asked a friend on stage for a duet, got everyone to sing along and most of all made us laugh. He has a great sense of humor and does not take anything in life too seriously, especially not himself. We found out what his songs are about, but we learned many other things too like a new German word he invented, some interesting Swedish research results about older people and everything we ever wanted to know about sex on an Icelandic mountain. 😉
I cannot remember all the songs Svavar played or in which order, but I sure remember how much fun I had, even though not all of his stories were funny. For ‘Baby would you marry me’ he told us about a relationship that was just terrible, but since you don’t break up while you are traveling the next worst thing was to write this song. Before ‘While the world burns’ he made up a “standard” love song with terribly cheesy lines like “I wanna be on you, I wanna be in you” only to tell us that he cannot write this type of songs and this was the “most honest love song I have ever written”. He asked a friend on stage to sing a duet with him for these two songs. She sang well, it was beautiful. We also had more reasons to laugh because Savar screwed up the order of verses and they had to start over.
Interesting words played a big role that evening. We heard a song about “Wanderlust” which is “like Weltschmerz, only positive” and were told how awesome the word “Weltschmerz” is. A new word Svavar learned “thanks to Recklinghausen theater press” was “pummelig” (chubby). He wrote the music for the play “Iceland One Way” that premiered in Recklinghausen earlier this week and also plays the roles of all the Icelanders in the play. Apparently some critic called him “pummelig”, but of course he is not, he is “saftig” (juicy/luscious). 😀 The word kept reappearing as a running gag. His language skills didn’t end there though – he also invented the word “Schlubbi” and explained that it is a “really wet French kiss”, complete with gestures and facial expressions to show us what it looks like. 😀 It remains to be seen if people will start using the new word. 😉
Before playing his latest single ‘Girl from Vancouver’, he told us about a concert in New York where a fan told him she had flown in all the way from Vancouver to see him. He joked about thinking he wanted to make love to her right there, but instead just saying “that’s nice”, “because I’m very controlled”. 😀 So he wrote a song about her in the end.
I can’t quite decide if I was attending a comedy show or a concert, but in the end it didn’t matter. It sure was an entertaining evening. I mean did you know that “to have sex on an Icelandic mountain you need teamwork?” That’s because it is not only rocky so “you basically need to bring your own pillows or be with a girl that is really into rocks… or a guy”, but also it is cold “and all men know what happens when it’s cold.” And in case you already knew that you probably didn’t know that Swedish researchers have found out that musicians are much healthier than people who do sports – in old people’s homes “all the people in the wheelchairs – sportsmen and all the people dancing and having fun – musicians.” Every story and joke comes out with just the right gestures and just the right amount of seriousness to really make people laugh.
With all the jokes, there is still great music that one should not forget about. Some lyrics are deeply sad, some serious, some rather funny, but all are good. It is the mixture of sad songs and funny stories that make Svavar’s concerts so interesting and unusual, but when you go home and listen to his CDs there is nothing missing either. I is just a completely different experience. The concert began with him telling us that singing along is good for a sense of community and it ended with two encores and everyone singing along. 🙂 I’m sure I’ll go see him again the next time he plays in my area.
After the concert, there was not much time to chat, but Svavar still stuck around a little bit, joked about Swiss Franks being depressing, because all the people have sad faces, signed CDs and told us his daughter does the artwork (which is quite nice). Then he had to hurry to catch his train, while I stayed to chat with One Eye Open and the people from the venue for a little while. Thus ended a very lovely night. 🙂