Ragnar Ólafsson – The Place, Sankt Petersburg; April 7th, 2018
Going back to Russia for a concert had been high on my list of things to do this year so seeing Ragnar play there was the perfect opportunity. It was beautiful on many levels, with a good support act, a co musician on cello and the additional treat of hearing Ragnar give a lecture on Icelandic music. All of this together made an amazing evening that even included drinks among friends after. Totally worth the trip! 😀
I was in the middle of planning this spring’s Poets of the Fall tour when Ragnar announced two concerts in Russia in April. So far, only good things have happened in Russia and I saw some of the best concerts of my life there so I saw if something could be arranged. I only wanted to do the second one so I could attend both Poets gigs that weekend, but soon learned that it is impossible to attend midnight gig in Kuopio on Saturday night and be in Moscow in time for a 5 pm concert on Sunday afternoon. Thus, I decided to see both of Ragnar’s gigs, arranged everything and therefore found myself on a train to Saint Petersburg on Saturday.
Everything went smoothly until I got to my usual hotel and nobody answered the door. After 30 minutes of trying and with the help of a nice Russian couple even calling them to no avail, I realized I might need to find a new place to stay for the night. Problem was I had no wifi at that point and not much time left before I needed to be halfway across town for the concert. Getting there was most important to me then, I could figure out everything else later. With the help of nice people I found the right subway station and the venue, walked in and got to hear soundcheck. Nice! Talked to Ragnar briefly and learned two things: a) they were about to film a video and b) there was wifi. Before I could process the fact that I just might be lucky enough to attend a video shoot, the wifi info was more important. I need not have worried, it took all of five minutes to find and book a new hotel.
That taken care of I was free to take in my surroundings, had time to change out of my sweaty clothes and was actually allowed to stay for the video shoot provided I was quiet. Would have loved to take pictures, but the music is much too delicate for the sound my camera makes, so I only shot a few when hey were done. They did three takes and it was fascinating to watch. They filmed with six cameras I think, from all angles, some stationary, some hand held. The best part though: Ragnar was not playing alone. He had help from the very talented Alexander on cello. It sounded absolutely amazing. When they were done I told them how beautiful I thought it was. <3 What a treat. That alone made the trip worthwhile. 🙂
Soundcheck wasn’t over though, there were still rehearsals with Olya Bravina, the night’s guest singer for the duets. She did a lovely job on first try. Finally it was time to relax and grab some food while waiting for the lecture to start. Somewhere in the midst of all this I met Ksenia, who had organized the concert with her agency and took care that everything went smoothly. We were already about an hour behind schedule, but that didn’t matter at all. 😀 Quite a few people had arrived already and now they all came In and sat down. There were lots of comfy cushions on the floor and I’d already left my proverbial towel (i.e. jacket) on one at the front row center. 😀
I can’t remember what time Ragnar’s lecture started. What I do remember is that I had everything prepared to film it – additional camera, mini tripod and all, but stupidly had no checked my SD card and there was not enough space so it stopped after a few seconds. Talk about feeling stupid. Thus I ended up filming the whole thing with the DSLR I held in my hand until the battery died. *laughs* Anyway, the lecture was quite entertaining and I learned a few things too. He had chosen to pick one aspect of Icelandic music, melancholia, and historically explained how that came about. We learned how the lack of instruments and the isolation lead to a development of music without theory and how the Icelandic fifth and other elements can still be found in Icelandic music today. I enjoyed it very much and the q & a after was quite funny, especially because people mostly didn’t ask about music. So you hate cats, ey? I knew you were a dog person, but a cat hater? We might have to reconsider this friendship. 😉 😛
Break time, drinks and listening to the pretty damn good Комната105. They rocked the house! I enjoyed their set very much, even though I had no idea what they were singing. It was done well and they all knew how to play too. Standing in the back listening I exchanged a few words with Ragnar who also liked them. They were a good choice for a support act.
We settled down to hear the concert we had come to see and it was off to a perfect start with ‘SSDD’ . It still makes me smile to write words like that considering how long it took me to like this song. With Alexander Gumbarg on cello it was perfect though. I was in awe of his playing, especially considering they had only met that day and didn’t have much time to rehearse. Are all cello players geniuses? It almost seems to be part of the job description, considering how amazing some of them are. Either way, Alexander certainly is hugely talented and I immediately loved his additions to the songs.
“A good audience is one that listens”. Thus we were treated to the unplugged version of ‘Wine’. It’s nice, how some songs are still stripped down and just played on guitar like they were on the first tour last year, while others have evolved far beyond that. When the song was over I heard someone say “It’s amazing!” I agreed. 🙂 He told us that every song has a story that inspired the music, but that the most important element in the music is silence, the point where the song stops and starts again.
Ragnar told us about listening to the demo for ‘Dozen’ and realizing he’d written a duet without knowing it so Olya joined him on stage to sing with him and she did it beautifully. It still amazes me how the duets sound different every night, but every interpretation is good. Here, too, the cello fit in nicely. We learned how the first, heavy rock arrangement for ‘War’ didn’t really fit the album, so he recorded it with a ukulele and with the different instruments added on tour it keeps changing. He described it as being about the war inside your head.
I had been curious about ‘Bravery’. It is still one of my favorite songs and it seems to work with any new instrument added so I was really looking forward to how the cello would work out. It fit perfectly! <3 Before it started though, during the story that goes with it, I kept hearing David’s comments in my head and smiled, thinking back on the banter between the guys on the previous tour.
For ‘Relations’ Ragnar moved over to the piano. Alexander played some cool stuff on the cello that made me think of Guillaume playing the theme from ‘Jaws’. Only a few people were excited about him asking us to sing, but it worked. I refrained, because I was filming the song. 😉 It made me happy that he announced ‘Red Wine’ next. Depressing as it is, I love the song. Not only the lyrics, but especially the music and the way it is sung perfectly convey what it feels like to have lost someone you loved – the loneliness and the despair is all there.
“You know how it is, you always find the right words to say when it’s too late.” was the introduction to a moving delivery of ‘Urges’. I really felt it that night. 🙂 It fit that he asked who saw the lecture right after and stated how melancholy in Icelandic music comes naturally. Olya joined him again for ‘Petals’ and her singing was lovely. There are so many amazing singers out there and somehow they always end up on stage during Ragnar’s concerts. <3
A brilliant version of ‘Scar’ brought the set to an end. It’s official, cello does it for me any day. I loved the power of that song, how it just became stronger and stronger towards the end. 😀 The rest of the audience agreed with me and loudly demanded more. Someone wanted to hear ‘Sleep now’ and when he asked how many songs we had left, two or three songs and we answered “Four!”
“Musicians are flawed people. Instead of doing things we just write songs about them.” 😉 That may be true, but if it leads to songs like ‘Needle and Thread’ I certainly don’t mind. I’ve loved it from the first time I’ve heard it and it’s quickly shaping up to become one of my all time favorites! Of course he could not let us go without the murder ballads, ‘Where the wild Roses grow’ to get us in the mood and finally ‘Sleep now’ where Ragnar stepped off the stage and walked around, greeting us. It is a good song to end the show with, but of course we would not have minded hearing a few more. 😉
After the gig, many people came to say hello, get pictures and get albums signed. A quick hug, saying how wonderful it had been and then I waited for the coast to clear. L. and her mom were there and a few other familiar looking people. We ended up with Ragnar at the bar, telling stories and having shots, a local Saint Petersburg one. I learned how the Russian Árstíðir fan club had started. 😀 It was the perfect end to the night and after saying goodbye, I even got a lift from N. who was going my general direction. With a happy sigh I went to my hotel, already looking forward to the next day.
Needle and Thread
Where the wild Roses grow