Ragnar Ólafsson – Mjazzga, Elbląg; November 18th, 2018
After a wonderful week at Iceland Airwaves and returning to Reykjavik riight after to see Arstidir perform with Magnus Þór, I found myself in Poland once again to attend Ragnar Ólafsson’s solo tour. Somehow he had managed to get there a day before I did and play another gig, but I joined him in Elbląg. Even though I’d only seen him play his solo material live in May it felt like ages ago, because I could not attend any of his shows in October. So this gig in Elbląg felt all fresh and wonderful. It made me happy to see Ragnar and David play and the concert was a good one.
I’d flewn to Poland the previous night, with my flight being surprisingly on time after storms in Iceland had delayed most flights during the day. Spent the night in Gdánsk, made my way to Elbląg around noon and had enough time to walk around the pretty little city for a bit. The gig was planned as a house concert originally, but had been moved to to a small club last minute. When I arrived I ran into A. who I had briefly met at Airwaves. We spent the time chatting and admiring the nicely decorated club. Behind the stage was a world map made of bricks, but strangely Iceland was missing. Candles on stage created a nice mood and I could not wait for the show to start.
The organizer of the gig walked on stage and announced them. I don’t know what he was saying, but it seemed to be funny, because people were laughing. Ragnar picked up on the fact that he said something about Vikings and explained the necklace he was wearing (Þor’s hammer). After the first song, ‘SSDD’, he added that the only Polish words he kew where the ones the car navigation system was saying. David added he only knew how to go right, which was good, because going in circles would always bring them back here, to a place they liked. 😀 I already knew then that the concert was going to be fun, because they were both in such a good mood. They were also noticeably tired which resulted in Ragnar having to think about the words to ‘Deva’ at times. It didn’t matter though and one would have to know the song really well to even realize he was hesitating.
Before ‘Bravery’ he asked how many ha seen him play before and it was only A. and me. Thus, telling the same story as always was safe 😉 It had some new additions though from wondering if grizzly bears liked Jägermeister (which, surprisingly, had become ‘”Jägermeister cinnamon vanilla” by now) to going into details about eating spam (“if you’re not laughing you don’t know what spam is”). I had missed the stories and the music. Somehow the songs are still evolving, with subtle or even bigger changes over time and I enjoy listening for those. My favrorites stay the same, with ‘Bravery’ being one of them, but each and every song has something I love and depending on my mood they speak to me differently. I was happy that night and just enjoyed being there. 🙂
Next up was a song that Ragnar wrote for his grandmother after she died and played at her funeral. He asked if I’d ever heard it but I hadn’t, so it must have been quite some time ago he last played it. He told us he found it while going through old demos. The song was rather beautiful and the words felt sooothig somehow. He forgot a verse in between, but it was lovely nonetheless. <3 Afterwards he asked us if we knew what “La la la” means in Icelandic. Everyone laughed when it turned out that it means nothing at all. Thus, he concluded the words can be used to express anything and be the saddest words in the world when put in the context of a sad song.
David returned to the stage for ‘Urges’, but first they needed to fix his monitor. There was no sound on it. When the tech finally got it to work, it was too loud, because David had kept asking him to turn it up. He joked that this is what they usually do during sound check. It promted Ragnar to tell a story about Ravi Shankar playing with The Beatles at Royal Albert Hall where people had mistaken his sound check for a song. Eventually they got it right and continued. Things like these always makes concerts more memorable. 😀 Again, Ragnar forgot the words, but they came back to him soon, so they just started over. I noticed some changes in the lyrics too and smiled, not only because I know the song well enough to notice, but also because that’s what so many musicians do without anyone ever knowing. The sound was great that night and every song sounded good. 🙂
We learned about time spent on the Mississippi river and writing a song every day. “Some where absolute shit, but a few where really good.” David joked there were two, so Ragnar said that there are only two David likes and he answered those were the only two he knew how to play. The wonderful ‘Walls’ followed. It is one of the shortest songs I know, but these three minutes speak t me more than a thousand page book could. I still cannot figure out what it means, but it touches my soul and that is enough for me. <3
The venue had the well known pictures of Frank Zappa on the toilet above the men’s toilet which caused Ragnar to nerd out on Zappa for a bit. The most interesting part of that was finding out that the woman in the picture above the women’s toilet was one of the Turnettes, Ike and Tina Turner’s backing vocals, who sang on one of Zappa’s albums and that Tina herself sang on the album, but Ike hated it and thus Zappa was not allowed to use her name on the album cover. All that came forth after someone from the venue mentioned she was one of Zappa’s backup singers, but they did not know her name. it was just a prelude to saying there was a piano on stage and we were supposed to sing next. Ragnar joked we’d find the lyrics under our seats and David added they’d be next to the life jackets. 😀 The next song of course was ‘Relations’ and we actually managed the sing along pretty well. At the end I heard him say “We’ll skip ‘Red Wine'” in Swedish. I would have liked to hear that one, but it didn’t really fit the mood.
The setlist, i.e. the phone was almost out of battery which lead to a short discussion of the old days where they were written on paper. I sure miss them. It was back to the Mississippi for the next song, a new one called ‘Muddy Waters’, a tribute to the muddy Mississippi. He told us a little bit about the beauty of life on the river, how nice and helpful people are who live there. They’d played the song during soundcheck and I’d really liked it. It is very bluesy and stands out from the rest. This one might become a live favorite. It sure is fun. 😀 Next up was ‘The Message’. I’d asked Ragnar to play that song, because it had been playing in my head lately. The song has evolved much since I’d heard it for the first time in May and turned into something truly beautiful. Exactly the song I had hoped for and very much the song I needed right then and here. Thank you! <3
They told us we’d get to hear one more song and could vote for an encore with our hands. We were taken back to the Mississippi again for ‘Southern Nights’ and again managed the sing-along well. Funny, I remember this song did not do much for me when I first heard it, but it is so uplifting that I really enjoy hearing it now. It worked well to end the main set and people enthusiastically clapped and cheered for more.
They returned and mentioned how nice it was when he main part of the show was over and they could play whatever they wanted. Ragnar stood on a chair to my right and played ‘Wine’. It worked nicely. ‘Needle and Thread’ was next. He did the first verse acoustically on his own, befre they started playing, then repeated it again to guitar and violin. I liked it that way. They said goodbye again, but we would not let them go.
Ragnar was back on the stage alone and spoke about Ask the Slave. Since someone in the audience thought it’s be a good Name for an African band, he explained ow it was a tribute to the people who had invented Blues and Rock. David asked if he was going to play ‘Sleep now’ right away or not and Ragnar answered that he’d play the other song first or something like that. It was all in Swedish, but I gathered that we’d hear ‘Where the wild Roses grow’ first. That’s what happened too and the audience even sang along. 😀 David joined him again for ‘Sleep now’ and Ragnar walked around in the room to sing to everyone. I would have gladly heared a few more songs after this, but it was the last one. A good end to a good show.
I stuck around, talked with A. a lot, who, as it turned out, had been in Malmö for Progressive Circus too. We chatted with Ragnar for a little while and eventually said goodbye. It was fun, see you tomorrow.
Icelandic – grandmother
Needle and Thread
Where the wild Roses grow