Invisible strings, leaves and lightbulbs

Árstíðir / Myrkur / Sólstafir – Maison Folie Beaulieu, Lille; November 19th, 2017

This was one of those concerts or rather one of the tours I was not sure about at all. I always love Árstíðir, but the combination of acts was not really my thing. sure, Sólstafir were enjoyable during Iceland Airwaves, but what I had heard of Myrkur did not work for me at all. So I really wasn’t sure if listening to Árstíðir for 30 minutes would make up for having to endure the rest of it. Then again I remembered my doubts about the tour with Pain of Salvation in 2013 and how much I’d love it in the end and decided to give it a shot, fitting as many shows into my busy schedule as I could reasonably get away with at work (read: four). It worked, I enjoyed the show and that was exactly what I had come for.

Getting to Lille was surprisingly easy by train, but it did mean getting up rather early since I was in Southern Germany the day before. Despite having a window seat I did not sleep on the train at all and desperately needed a rest when I finally arrived. After that, there was not much time left to get ready, hop on a metro and go to the venue. The concert was supposed to start at 7 so I guessed the doors would open at 6 and aimed for getting there by 5. I was alone for quite a while, chatting with the security guards. Many people joined about half an hour after I got there and finally, later than expected, they let us in. It all went smoothly, I picked up my ticket and was surprised that hey did not let us straight in, but made us wait outside the “sale de spectacle” for 30 minutes or so. I got a good spot on the left, exactly where I wanted to be and watched the final show preparations.

With so few Árstíðir shows this year until now, I was happy to see them again, no matter how few songs they would play. This was my 150th concert after all. Around 7:30 the music stopped, the lights went down and the guys walked on stage. I knew they would be without string players this tour and expected something akin to the acoustic sets they had played during their concerts in the spring. I was quite looking forward to it, because it would force the to reinvent songs and I like seeing something different once in a while, Thus I was rather surprised when they started with ‘Himinhvel’ and had no only the usual intro, but also the strings playing from pre-recorded tracks. It pretty much sounded like it always does, only that the cello and violin were not visible. I should have guessed as they have had an invisible drummer for a while, but I totally had not thought about that possibility. They sounded good though and that is the main thing. 🙂

I had the feeling they were a bit nervous about playing as a trio, looked just a little bit uncomfortable on the big stage, but I might have been imagining things. After ‘Things you said’ they thanked us and I noticed then that the acoustics at the venue were strange. While I had no trouble understanding what they sang, the spoken words were somehow distorted or at least it sounded to me like parts were missing. So either it was the sound at the venue or all the concerts I’ve been to are finally taking their toll and I’m going deaf. 😉 Gunnar announced a new song, called ‘Mute’ – it was one of those they had premiered at Airwaves. I’d loved it from the first moment I heard it and the more I listen to it the more I noticed how much their style really has changed. ‘Hvel’ was already pointing in this direction, but the new songs are still vastly different from the old. It makes me quite happy. In my opinion bands need to evolve to survive and these guys constantly do.

Ragnar talked about how much they liked touring with Sólstafir and especially being back in France where they’d last been four years ago. Next was ‘Heyr, himna smiður’ and instead of gathering around one mic they all used their own. It was weird. To me the song is too delicate for this, it kinda needs a softer performance that forces people to listen. ‘Someone who cares’ worked much better and ‘Systir’ was amazing. I really love this one and keep hoping for it to be on the new album, but considering it is one of the backer songs, I doubt it will be. Maybe we’ll get a good live recording one day. The final song of their set was ‘Shades’ and while it sounded great it felt very weird to me. It is the song where I usually focus on the string players because they have such a great part there and go completely nuts towards the end. Now this time I heard the strings, but could not see them and that was a bit off. It was still a greta set and I would have loved to hear more, but this was it.

Setlist

Himinhvel
Things you said
Mute
Heyr, himna smiður
Someone who cares
Systir
Shades

Before the show I texted with Ragnar. I believed Sólstafir had a two hour set. Thus I might have to leave early if I wanted to catch the last metro back to Lille. I’d Salmiakki though and of course had a “love letter” to deliver for the guys (read: The Anatomy of Frank had written them a not the previous night that I’d promised to hand over). Anyway, he promised to come out and pick up the stuff. For now,I was watching him and Daníel work together with some others. On this tour, they all had more than one job: Ragnar playing keyboards with Sólstafir and Daníel being the sound tech for everyone. They all had to do their share of loading and unloading too so they were quite busy.

I must admit that I dreaded Myrkur, they second support act. Preparing for the tour I had checked her out, but never even made it through the first song I listened to, because metal screaming is really not for me. There was a bit of a nature / fall theme going on with leaved on the stage and her carrying a twig in her hand as she walked out. The other thing I noticed where the dark style of the band (black clothes, hood up, heavy tattoos) in stark contrast with the light dress she was wearing. Once she started singing I noticed that it wasn’t as bad as I had expected. She actually has a really nice voice. Most of the songs were still not my thing, but I found it listenable and spent the time trying to capture some good pictures. Around halfway through her set I got a bit bored, finding it difficult to take in more of a type of music I don’t care for, especially being as tired as I was. Still, I am sure for lovers of the genre it must have been great. Her last song was played solo. I liked that one.

Setlist

Mareridt
The Serpent
Ulvinde
Onde børn
Jeg er guden, i er tjenerne
Måneblôt
Elleskudt
Skøgen skulle dø
Skaði

Had a chat with Ragnar afterwards. He stepped of the stage for a moment to give me a hug and pick up the Salmiakki. It was nice to say hello and exchange a few words on the tour. Of course he wanted to know how the trio setup worked for me and I assured him it was good. 🙂

Changing the stage setup was quick, suddenly the stage seemed a lot bigger and at 9:30 it was time for the main act of the night. At Iceland Airwaves in 2016 Sólstafir had used video projections, but this time they had only a backdrop which made it easier to watch them without distraction. 😉 Other than that they had quite a few light bulbs as stage decoration and lots of other lights. It was going to be bright. Drums and keyboards were on raisers in the back, giving me a good view of everyone. I loved their stage outfits – they have some sort of metal cowboy thing going and it fits with the music. Each on of them played their hearts out, it was so much fun to watch.

Despite having seen them before, I really don’t know Sólstafir’s music at all. What was left of that previous gig was an impression of the music, but no real memory. Thus, everything I heard that night felt new and fresh to me. The songs were melodious and long, some grabbed me, some did not, but overall I enjoyed listening. Most of the lyrics were in Icelandic so Id di not understand much of the singing, but the music carried its own message and at times I allowed it to take me over and carry me. At other times I just watched, hunting for good pictures, having fun with flying hair and banging heads. From time to time I checked on Daníel who had his spot on the far right of the stage and was watching the show from their while making sure the sound was alright.

Aðalbjörn, the singer did not talk all that much or at least he did not tell stories, but he interacted with the audience a lot, stepping on the little platform in front of the stage, reaching out, taking hands and balancing on the barrier in front of us all the way from one side to the other, holding on to several of us on the way. Sweaty hands I noticed when he took mine. As he got close I watched the looks on people’s faces. Gig face all the way. 🙂 Svavar on bass and Sæþór on guitar got close too at times, using the stage monitors to rest their feet on and coming to the edge of the stage, while drummer Hallgrímur and Ragnar on keyboards were going wild in the back. There was so much action, I sometimes did not know where to look. 🙂

Due to the long wait outside I had been cold most of the night, but finally got warm during the last part of the gig and took off my hoodie. I moved in tuned with the music, but it wasn’t any crazy dancing or jumping this time around. 😉 All through the set I waited for the one song that would give me access to their music, make me more than just a witness. It was enjoyable, but I was not really in it half of the time, could still feel that I was tired. Then, finally it happened. Aðalbjörn asked if we wanted to hear a demo song or one from the new album. Most voted for Demo and it was only the next day that I realized they played a new song anyway. Not knowing the songs, I could not understand the joke. Either way, the song was fabulous (and no, I cannot exactly tell you which one it was, but I think it was ‘Bláfjall’). I have no idea what it was about, but it instantly got to me. Perfect!

Other than that the funny acoustics prevented me from understanding all that was being said during the show, which sometimes made it difficult to follow. Wait what? Why are they raising their hands now? Oh well, I just screamed along with everyone else when it seemed the right time to do so. 😉 Expecting two hours I was somewhat surprised when the announced their would not be an encore, but they’d just play a bit more and only one more song came after that after around 90 minutes. It was one hell of a last song though with Aðalbjörn dropping to his knees and Ragnar picking up the Hammond organ and holding it while playing. A crazy, wonderful, rocking finale. They gathered at the front and bowed a few times, then left. I cheered with everyone else, feeling a smile spread on my face. Hell yeah!

With time to spare I stuck around for a little bit, got some water and bought a new Árstíðir T-Shirt. Many people gathered by the merch stand where the band had come out, but I did not feel like talking to them. Soon I realized that my guys would not make an appearance, sent a goodbye message and left. Exhausted and happy I arrived back at my hotel, already looking forward to the following day’s concert.

pictures of this concert

Setlist

Silfur-Refur
Ótta
Lágnætti
Ísafold
Köld
Hula
Fjara
Bláfjall
Goddess of the Ages

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