About life, love and death

Svavar Knútur – B72, Vienna; April 28th, 2024

The second stop on my little tour with Svavar Knútur was Vienna and I didn’t have high expectations, because Innsbruck had been brilliant and he had told me that they had not sold all that many tickets for Vienna. I could not have been more wrong. The small venue held many enthusiastic people and the energy flowing between un and the stage brought on a fantastic show. I had such a great time and I am sure so did everyone else.

Th trip to Vienna took roughly four hours and for the first time since Friday I could relax a little at my hotel before leaving again. The weather was beautiful, so I decided to walk to the venue and grab some food before standing in line. The ticket said 20:00, so I assumed that was the start time of the concert, but when I got there at 18:00, I learned it was the time the doors opened. Oh, well, I sat in the sun and enjoyed the fact that I had now gotten the chance to watch the full live stream of Ragnar’s and Marina’s concert from Reykjavik. It made me really happy and they got done just before the doors opened. Perfect

Inside, I left my camera bag and jacket at the front and went back out, chatting with Svavar for a bit or mostly listening to him chat with others. He spoke a lot about the Australia tour, how he had made a compilation of “The least shit Svavar Knutur” (not “the best”, because Australians don’t like that) to sell there and how at a festival 1000 people had sung along in Icelandic. 🙂

At about 20:45, he stepped on the stage and realized the venue had two levels and there were people upstairs too, so he said he was gonna try and look at everyone. Quite a few people were new to his shows and he joked that if they felt violated in some way they should just wait and it would pass. 😉 He spoke about the release of ‘Ahoy’ and told us how long this whole project has taken, because he writes only one song a year, he now has about 75,  but Icelanders age differently. 😀

The first song was ‘Ástarsaga úr fjöllunum’ for his grandmother and told us how awesome she is. I like how he often starts with Icelandic songs to introduce his language to us. Next was the beautiful ‘Morgúnn’, which, as I learned during the break, is for his wife. Of course he had to explain to us why love songs are boring – it’s all funny, because it’s true. And still there are some great ones out there. 😉 I really enjoyed the sound at he venue, it was pretty much perfect. And the audience was really attentive too. We all laughed, when he illustrated how Austrians are the cowboys of German. His stories really cannot be told in writing – they have to be heard. He spoke about different language melodies and how they are shaped by where we live. There was a jab at Danes in there somewhere too. 😉 The last Icelandic song was ‘Refur’ and we learned how he got to spend a whole year with him during Covid and why else that was a good time for him. It is such a beautiful song too, full of so much love – tell me again you don’t write love songs!

So far, the concert had contained the same songs as the one in Innsbruck and yet it felt different already, because the atmosphere in the rom was different and some of the stories had changed. It only got better from here.

Svavar told us how he often writes “sister songs”, two songs that belong together one of the ones he mentioned was ‘Clementine’ and I wondered which the sister song is. Forgot to ask him about it though. We learned that he had finished his 15 project of an exploration of grief, but that he was not going to stop being a singer/songwriter. He was now going to play us two about refugees, ‘Lady Winter’ about the decision to leave and then ‘Hope and fortune’ about the travel. The first one really touched me that night and almost brought tears to my eyes. <3 For the second, he challenged us to sing along to the chorus and if all of us did he would buy us a drink during the break. 😀 He even gave us 30 seconds to google the song. It was fantastic. Everyone sang their hearts out. We also learned that he re recorded some part of the song for ‘Ahoy Side B’ so now I cannot wait to heart that version. 🙂

He mused for a moment of what song to play next and told us it depended on our energy. The he settled on ‘Brot’. It made me so happy. I had thought about requesting that song, but I never did and then it happened  anyway. It was a great rendition too, nothing short of amazing, including some brilliant guitar work.  <3

Next up was ‘Isn’t it funny?’ from the ‘Unanswered’ album and he told us how proud he was of that. Before he played it, he had to destroy our romantic ideas about mermaids – and how does one have sex with them anyway? Marine biology for beginners! 😀 Anyway, Icelandic merfolk are different. Svavar’s concerts are not only highly entertaining, but also educational! I do think I like the story better than the song, but it really is funny (in a dark, Icelandic kind of way).

Svavar told us how happy he was to be there. Before the final song of the first set, he joked about men in midlife crisis and their panic about aging. Good for him, that he is OK with it. He has a point, it depends on how you look at it. 🙂 Picking the right job is part of it, I guess. He ended the set with ‘November’. I like, how he speaks about the song being about grief on this tour – I cannot recall him doing that before. The performance was amazing!

During the break, we all got our drinks and many people went to buy merch and talk to Svavar. Someone had already bought the last vinyl before the show, but they just bought CDs instead. I hung out for a bit, to listen in as he spoke about the songs for his children and how Emma’s and Ulfar’s had been very clear very early, where as it took him some time to find the right one for Refur. He also mentioned getting a request for one of his few love songs and I was curious to learn which one it would be.

As promised, the second set started with ‘Januar’ and coming out of the darkness. He taught us how to sing the lines “Ég sé þig janúar, ég man þig Janúar” and spoke about darkness swallowing everything, including your pain. We did a decent job singing along too. 🙂 He talked about how he loves breakup songs, including an example of a bad one. The more he spoke about it, the more I thought about introducing him to ‘No woman ever wants to be a muse’. 😉 After some dating advice for Iceland and learning about scientific food experiments, It was time for one of his breakup songs: ‘Emotional Anorexic’. I will never not enjoy that song and wasn’t the only one singing along.

Svavar told us how he didn’t become a musician until his late 20ies and how there’s a lot of ageism in music, especially in pop music. It definitely is prejudice like any other and aging is is OK. “You’re gonna die and that’s fine!” However, folk is the non-ageist genre in music. 🙂 He mentioned that the next request was hard, because he had not sung it in a long time. “It’s not quite a love song, it’s an appreciation song”. He picked up his ukulele and played ‘Little Things’. It was so lovely and also new to me, as in I’d never heard him play this live. <3

He spoke about never wanting to play the same concert twice, always trying to surprise himself. This show was definitely a surprise so far and I have heard similar shows, but never two that were the same. 🙂 It’s one of the reasons I love them so much. I can’t remember how we got there, but from teaching us how to say “Skál” we got to a wild travel story about his uncle, who was once thought to be a dervish. While wondering what to lay next, someone yelled ‘Wanderlust’ and it was the perfect request with a great sing along.

Svavar mentioned, how he only ha two more songs, unless we’d shout “Zugabe”. He gave a shout out to Ronja, the sound engineer and we all clapped for her. Then he thanked all of us for being there. For the first time ever, he mentioned how ‘The Hurting’ is also a breakup song. Wow, we really had a moment there – all of us, collectively. We learned some Icelandic on the was too and how the icelandic way for happy means having thick skin and some more. Then he gave us a killer version of the song. 😀 Finally, he gave us the story of Emma’s birth, the longest minute of his life and her song, ‘Slow Dance’. It was lovely and felt like it ended the story of the night.

Of course we yelled for “Zugabe” loudly and svavar was right back on stage, talking about his childhood and ABBA’s album ‘The Visitors’, the played us ‘Like an Angel passing through my Room’ and ‘When all is said and done, of course not without talking about the Mamma Mia movie and Pierce Brosnan. Both songs were played perfectly. *sigh* He considered if he was done, but felt tempted to play one more, even though it might scare some people off. He gave them a chance to leave (nobody did) and gave us ‘Song of good advice’. It was hilarious, with everyone screaming “and then you’ll die” at the appropriate moments. What a show and what a finale!

Setlist

Ástarsaga úr fjöllunum
Morgúnn
Refur
Lady Winter
Hope and Fortune
Brot
Isn’t it funny?
November

Janúar
Emotional Anorexic
Little Things
Wanderlust
The Hurting
Slow Dance

Like an Angel Passing Through My Room
When all is said and done
Song of good advice

It as late, so  said a quick goodbye, thanked him for the fantastic show, confirmed that it had been completely different from the one inInnsbruck. Have a good night, see you tomorrow. 🙂

On Icelandic dating, sister songs and pizza

Svavar Knútur – Die Bäckerei, Innsbruck; April 27th, 2024

When the tourdates for the sprig were announced, I saw only one near my area and decided that wasn’t enough, so I aimed for the weekend shows and settled on Austria, with Innsbruck being the first stop. I had not been to Die Bäckerei since I’d seen The Anatomy of Frank there back in 2017, but remembered I had liked the venue. It was the perfect location for a great gig. I loved all of it, from Svavar’s song selection to the wonderful crowd.

Due to the last minute Trier detour on Friday, I had a long travel day. Trains didn’t even take that long, but with waiting times it added up to an 11 hour trip.  When I finally got to Innsbruck, I was already tired. Not much time to rest and I was off to the venue. Of course I arrived to early, so the bartender directed me to a nearby park, where I walked around in the sun. It was a beautiful day. Once I returned, I said hello to Svavar, secured a spot at the front and had a nice glass of wine before the show.

Once on stage, he first asked us, who had never seen him before and maybe a quarter of the crowd raised their hands. That made him happy and he said he wanted to sing a lot of songs for us, so maybe he would not tell so many stories. Or tell stories and forget about singing. First was his grandmother’s favorite poem by Látrabjörk, ‘Ástarsaga úr fjöllunum’. He explained that she had written many beautiful poems, but this was a harsh one and gave us a quick translation. It was a good start to the show.

Svavar said that when he stated he swore he would never play the same concert twice and always changes things around a little bit. He spoke about Ahoy and that finishing it it took longer than expected, but the long time made it better. He now feels that his “Songs of misery of redemption” project, that started with the first album is now done, the story is told and he has worked through his grief. He added that he wants to continue being an artist though.

He made us all laugh with all the interesting things to write about apart from love. And because love songs are so boring, he wanted to sing one for us, ‘Morgúnn’. It is always a treat. After that we got a bit of an introduction to Icelandic language and culture, learning about romantic gesturesand no rhymes for “Moon”. He explained Icelandic dating as: You get drunk, you fuck, f it ws good, you do it again, then you watch a mivie and if you don#t wnat to kill the  other person you’re dating. There was a sub-plot about Svavar’s family and the movie ‘Twins’ somewhere too. 😀 It was all very funny. I love it, when Svavar is in a talkative mood.

‘Refur’ was next. All the songs about his children are lovely. 🙂 The audience loved it too. He told us about often writing “sister songs” with the same topic and wanted to play us the two songs about Icelanders  finally being able to leave their land in the late 1800 after being oppressed by the Danes so long. The history lessons are always an interesting part of the show and the two sister songs, ‘Lady Winter’ and ‘Hope and Fortune’ are two of my absolute favorites. I loved both and finally was able to sing along too.

Svavar mentioned how much of a privilege it is to be able to sing in his own languages and bring these songs out to the world. Before playing ‘Undir Birkitré’ he got from making jokes about Australia to not being judgmental about people’s sexual preferences. OK then 😀 The song eased us into having to sing along and everyone did a good job.

There was so much to laugh about that nigh, like Svavar imitating different German accents, joking that southern German was like “cowboy German”. The point of the story was to tell our friends in Vienna to go see the concert there, but on the way we got a story about being buried in snow. How we got from there to best friendships and ‘Ölduslóð’ I have no idea, but it all made sense. Afterwards we go a little story about Scandinavians versus the rest of the Nordics and how the Finns and the Icelanders end up drinking together. 😀 I especially love that he added “our non-binary siblings” to “our Finnish brothers and sisters”. <3

The final song of the first set was about the month that brings us into the darkness, ‘November’. He spoke about his love for winter. I love winter too, but November is ugly in Germany. Anyway, his disdain for Icelandic summer is very funny to me and ‘November’ is an amazing song. I always love it.

The break took a while, which usually means Svavar is selling lots of merch. Good for him. 🙂 Part two started with ‘Janúar’, the song that brings you out of the darkness, but first he told us to remind him of “the story of the pizza”. He really painted a beautiful picture of January before playing the song. For him coming out in the light at the end of the months is the perfect example of the process of grief. I never thought about it that way before, but it made so much sense. I really could relate to the notion of grief cleaning the splinters in your heart. <3 We got to sing in Icelandic too, including some examples of Icelandic versus German words. He explained the sing-along part really well and it was the best I have ever heard it.

He proposed a sing-along challenge for Hamburg and I immediately was sorry not to go there and I don#t even drink beer. 😉 If he actually posts that challenge, you’ll know what I mean. Next came the breakup song section, with an impromptu example of the wrong type of breakup songs. 😀 Learning from breakups lead us to hearing about his love for strawberry ice cream and making sacrifices in the spirit of science. 😀 We got two examples of breakup songs, ‘Hard Things’ and ‘The Glorious Catastrophe’. Especially the latter was great, because it was quite different from the last version of it that I’ve heard. 🙂

The we heard about the album he made with Lucy Ward and Aiden Townes, playing ‘Isn’t it funny?’ for us. Apparently the album got 4 stars in The Guardian and it’s definitely cool to hear about Icelandic merfolk compared to how they are presented in other countries. They will laugh at you to let you know you are wrong. 😉 After merfolk, we learned about elves and how again, they are different from how they are imagined elsewhere. This brought us to finding guitar picks in one’s pocket and ‘The Hurting’. It rocked the house!

He introduced the final song of the set, ‘Slow Dance’ as one he had not played for years. It is about childbirth from the perspective of a helpless man. He spoke about how his daughter Emma was born, how traumatic it was and the amazing child she has turned into. <3 The song was fantastic and I am sure I have never heard him play this one before. In the end we even sang along, very softly. 🙂

We could not let him go yet and cheered loudly for him to come back. Before he played anything else, he told us the story about the pizza, but if you want to hear that one, you’r gonna have to go to one of Svavar’s shows. 😉 After that, he played us ABBA’S ‘Like and Angel passing through my Room’ and ended the concert with his interpretation of the poem ‘Krummi Svaf í Klettagjá’. So we ended, like we started, with an Icelandic poem. It was perfect.

Setlist

Ástarsaga úr fjöllunum
Morgúnn
Refur
Lady Winter
Hope and Fortune
Undir Birkitré’
Ölduslóð
November

Janúar
Hard Things
The glorious Catastrophe
Isn’t it funny?
The Hurting
Slow Dance

Like an Angel Passing Through My Room
Krummi Svaf í Klettagjá

I went for hugs and a chat afterwards and was momentarily tempted to join Svavar for post show drinks, but I was really tired, so I said goodbye. Two more shows to go.