Árstíðir – Castelfest, Lisse; August 4th 2018
When I told my front row neighbor at Castelfest how much I’d missed Árstíðir and that I was really excited to see them again she commented “You need your fix!” and that was exactly what it was. The last concert had been more than seven months ago. It all seemed so long from them finishing the album early this year to its release to finally having the first chance to see them live again after all this time. Then again I did need a break, so in the end it was probably a good thing. For the first time in a long time I felt truly at home with the music, felt the magic it contains and for the first time in a long time there were no mixed feelings, just happiness.
I’d been in Iceland the previous week and flown to the Netherlands Friday morning, about 1.5 hours after the guys did. As opposed to them I did not go straight to Lisse though, but spent the day in Haarlem. The weather change from about 15 degrees in Iceland to 30+ in the Netherlands was a bit much for me so I was happy this day was slightly overcast and hence not as warm. Still, on the shuttle bus to the festival I sweat bucketloads. The walk from the parking lot to the festival grounds was a lot longer than I had expected, but eventually I got there. I arrived early, because I wanted to have time to explore the festival. It has a medieval theme and many people dress up for that. Saturday was also cosplay day so I saw a lot of different Doctors and many others. The costumes were brilliant. While walking around I got to hear music from the different stages too, but never watched any band in particular, just stayed here and there for a little bit and then moved on. It was fun and easy to pass the time until the guys were scheduled to play. I ran into J. somewhere along the way and around 5, when I was already standing in front of the stage, P. arrived.
Watching the guys setting up the stage for a while I waved to them and noticed that they had brought Guillaume and Jean-Samuel, but no drummer. I had hoped for one, because the new album has so much drums on it, but it made me happy to have a quintet again and not a trio. Sure, they can pull off a trio gig, but it all sounds so much better with real strings. From then on I knew everything was going to be alright!
On this beautiful, hot, Saturday evening the guys walked out and after saying hello, Ragnar told us how much they loved being at this unique festival. The intro started and for a brief moment I thought it might be ‘While this Way’ but soon realized it was ‘Himinhel’. “Hm,” I though, “is this going to be the same old setlist?” Next was ‘Things you said’ and I knew they were playing it safe. Don’t get me wrong, hearing them again was all sorts of amazing, but I was really waiting for the new songs. With the next one though, they got me. “We’re gonna sing a song without the Instruments,” Gunnar said and it was a gorgeous Icelandic piece. They have done this one before, but I still don’t know what it is called. They sang beautifully, eyes closed, fully concentrated on the music and there it was: The magic that I thought I had lost suddenly returned. It moved me deeply and it instantly made me smile.
Daniel mused about the non-existing summer in Iceland and told us they’d only had three days of sun so far. Well, I had three days of sun while I was there 😉 Ragnar added that since one could not go to the beach the only thing to do was be in the studio and make albums and they’d just released a new one. An amazing rendition of ‘Entangled’ followed. To my surprise I remembered most of the lyrics. The song itself had evolved from the version they’d played at Iceland Airwaves. What a great song. Ragnar told us about making the music video for this in the rain and about a picture with a giant umbrella covering a camera rig and two people. 🙂 I had really missed all their stories.
It got better and better from there on, as if they’d picked only my favorites to play. ‘Someone who cares’ is always welcome and ‘Lost in you’ is one song I loved early on, then lost somehow and fell in love with all over again right then and there. <3 When they talk about how they have not done this or that song in a long time, I often have a different feeling about it. I’m pretty sure they have played ‘You just have to know of me’ at almost every show I’ve been to. Never mind though, I won’t get tired of this one. Gunnar said how lovely it was to play there because he had never seen so many people who were so silent during the songs. True, nobody seemed to be talking and it suited their music well.
‘Lover’ was brilliant and seemed to have changed a little since Iceland Airwaves. It was even better than the album version with the voice being a bit clearer and more in the foreground. I loved it. This is one of my favorite song on ‘Nivalis’. Compared to everything else on the album, ‘Mute’ is not on the top of my list, but I enjoy it very much live. The lyrics really touch me, even though I have yet to figure out what they mean. Of the new songs I’d heard before the album this was the first one that felt very different from the old. A change was noticeable with the earlier ones, but ‘Mute’ really rocked, felt much “harder” than everything else and yet very fitting. I still remember the “WOW!” moment when they performed it at Iceland Airwaves for the first time.
Ragnar announced they were going to do an experiment they can only do when they have a really good audience, i.e. play an acoustic set with unplugged instruments singing into the same microphone. My neighbor joked they might be just sucking up and I confirmed that “they say this every time”. True, but this audience was actually really good at listening so it was true. ‘Með hallandi höfði’, their cover of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s ‘Helplessly Hoping’ always gets to me and it did so this time. It was so beautiful it made me sigh. They asked if we recognized the song and somebody actually did. ‘Góða veislu gjöra skal’ was a surprise in the middle of the show. It was dedicated to Eivør, a Faroese Artist that had played the night before. ‘Ages’ has always had a special place in my heart and resonated with me deeply. The live world premiere of ‘Conviction’ closed the acoustic set and was a true highlight. Wow! The song is rather soft so I wasn’t sure how it would work live, but it really blew me away. 🙂
At this point I was already so lost in the music I had lost my sense of time and it felt like a really long concert. Usually the best ones feel like they go by in a heartbeat, but this one seemed to last and the smile on my face grew bigger with every song. Somewhere along the way my neighbor asked me if I felt better now that I had my fix and all I could do was nod. This is what every Árstíðir concert should feel like and there was a time when they all did, but lately it had been difficult for me at times to fully feel the music so much that I get lost in it. Then at there, it finally happened again and was so intense that I wasn’t prepared for it at all. Happy does not even begin to describe it. Content is more like it. I would not have wanted anywhere else in the world and I wanted to hold on to that feeling for as long as I possibly could. <3
‘Ljóð í Sand’, a song I have heard so often it seemed tired at times, was perfect that day and ‘Silfurskin’ always is. I noticed that it came without the story of riding trains in Russia, but it sure did take me on a trip down memory lane and right into my happy place. Ragnar asked how many in the audience spoke Icelandic and there actually was a show of hands by a few people. 🙂 As I looked around I spotted S. in the crowd and smiled. It is always nice to see familiar faces.
Finally they played ‘While this Way’, the song I’d been waiting for. Gunnar sang the first lines very softly – it was perfect. I love the song very much and, as I expected, it cut me deeply. Back on the tour with Sólstafir I had already fallen in love with the music, but the lyrics had not found their way into my soul yet. Meanwhile they did and the more often I listen to it, the more perfectly the song seems to fit. “Oh I am the way I am, the way I am…” – knowing the guys still make music that can move me so much is a relief to me and further proof that it hasn’t lost any of its magic, I just wasn’t able to see it for a while.
There could not have been a better follow up than ‘Passion’. It is such a lovely song and it speaks to me on many levels. I loved having ‘Shine’ back on the setlist, travel to Mars story and all. Needless to say it was amazing. Gunnar announced another cover and said they thought this was the perfect place for it. The song was ‘Scarborough Fair’ and I agreed. It is one of my favorite Simon & Garfunkel songs and I adore their cover, especially because they do it as they did, with Ragnar and Gunnar singing ‘Scarborough Fair’ and Daníel singing ‘Canticle’. I always imagine this to be incredible hard and he did a brilliant job. <3
Ragnar told us they’d have two more songs for us and would meet us after the show to have drinks and learn Dutch phrases. 😀 The show ended in the tried and tested combination of a beautiful ‘You again’ and a killer version of ‘Shades’ where, as always, I watched the string players mostly. It has always been a great song to end the concert with and it was that night too. We wanted more and I am 100% sure they would have played another one, but as opposed to the band who’d played before them they were not give the chance. Judging by one of the festival employees showing them “5 minutes left” at the beginning of ‘You again’ I would guess they were over their limit already. Either way, I loved the show and so did the guys. There could not have been any better way for them to start a new season of concerts! I certainly hope more will follow soon.
Things you said
Unknown Icelandic song
Someone who cares
Lost in you
You just have to know of me
Með hallandi höfði
Góða veislu gjöra skal
Ljóð í Sand
While this Way
Scarborough Fair / Canticle
I talked to them for a bit after, saying how much I had loved it. That really doesn’t even begin to express my emotions. It felt like the rebirth of something special. Trying to find out when they would actually tour proved to be fruitless, because all they knew was that it was going to be in September. The first concert I know about is in seven weeks, but there is nothing I can do about that. Anyway, it was wonderful to talk and get a few hugs before they had to pack. Of course we never saw each other again after that, the festival is just too big to manage meeting someone without specifying where.
Thus, I spent time talking to S., P. and J. and ended up sharing drinks with J., watching the burning of the Wicker Man and the band Faun from after after the others left. It was a great day and I took many happy memories home with me.