Triangulation Thursday at Iceland Airwaves

I started out with a list of back to back shows scattered throughout the festival, only to discover that venue-hopping has its drawbacks. The wind was picking up, which made the walks very cold, and gusts were strong enough to slow my progress.

Eldar

KEX is on the waterfront at the outside edge of the festival area, and my first show of the day, Eldar, was on the waterfront at the opposite edge. I was interested in Eldar because it is a side project of Valdimar, frontman of the band of that name. Valdimar was one of the first Icelandic bands I discovered, and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to fit them into my schedule. Eldar turned out to be a lovely old-timey country harmony type project that I may actually like better than Valdimar.

Next up was Agent Fresco at the venue farthest from the waterfront. I had to leave Eldar midset to have a prayer of reaching Nordic House before the set started. I arrived in time, just barely, but the venue, a lecture hall in the University Library, was already packed. I grabbed a comfy chair in the lobby and wrote notes while listening to Agent Fresco’s moving acoustic set, in which their frontman shared some of the deeply personal motivations behind the songs.

When some of the Agent Fresco crowd cleared out, I joined the throng trying to get in, and pushed my way to the front, where I sat on the floor in front for an acoustic set by Ásgeir Trausti and Julius. Compared to the folksy feeling of their set at Neumos last month and the beefed up show at the Deutsche Bar last night, this set in the tiny, softly lit amphitheater really showed off the romantic feeling of the songs.

Asgeir Trausti, seated very close to a red light

Completing the triangle, my next show was back at KEX. The wind was so bitingly cold that I swore to buy the next pair of Icelandic wool gloves I saw. When I reached Laugavegur, the main shopping street, I did exactly that before pushing on to KEX, where I was able to grab a chair, but once again had absolutely no view of the band. This is a shame because I know that Apparat Organ Quartet are as visual as they are sonic, and their live shows are a rare treat even in Iceland. Fortunately, I had recently seen them at the Reykjavík Calling event at Neumos only a couple weeks earlier, so it was only disappointing rather than tragic. As with so many other bands of quality, the record is a pale shadow of the live performance, so even without the visuals they were amazing.

Next up was an interview with Sólstafir drummer, Guðmundur Óli Pálmason (Gummi). Truth be told, I was quite nervous. Not only was this the biggest interview I had scheduled, but I knew from YouTube that Gummi could be a real smartass in interviews. But he turned out to be incredibly friendly and down-to-earth. In Icelandic fashion, the conversation ranged far beyond the interview questions and far outlasted the interview proper. Throughout, Gummi presented well-formed arguments to support interesting opinions and was thoroughly entertaining. Brennivin made an appearance, as did the organizer of Eistnaflug, Iceland’s largest music festival. Taking photos outside after the interview, we ran into another of the Eistnaflug folks, and Gyða Hrund Þorvaldsdóttir from Angist stopped to talk. Shows were missed. I didn’t care.

Back at KEX, I was excited to finally see Seattle favorites Shabazz Palaces playing with those queens of flow, THEESatisfaction. This was the first Airwaves set for both acts, who were kicking off a three-week European tour. Although everything else I had seen at KEX had gone like clockwork, this set was plagued by technical difficulties. Set-up ran past the halfway mark of the scheduled set, and even when the equipment was finally working, repeated requests from the band for changes to the lighting were either ignored or impossible. Total pros that they are, once the music started, you would never know there had been problems. The set seemed shorter than most, but I’m not sure if that was because they were trying to get back on schedule or if it was just because I can’t get enough of these guys. The audience, however, didn’t seem to quite know what to do with this particular variety of hip hop, and when the final song ended with a fade, there was a moment of silence when no one realized they were done. In the middle of it, a drunk started shouting “more more more” in an incoherent bark, drawing all the attention in the room and further stalling the applause. Overall, it was a little bit of a weird vibe, but Shabazz Palaces can deliver in any circumstances, and THEESat once again earned their title of Ice Queens, never losing their famous cool.

Shabazz Palaces with THEESatisfaction

By now the wind was nearing hurricane proportions, and I actually asked the KEX staff if it was safe to go outside to change venues. Assured that it was okay as long as I was careful, they recommended I avoid the waterfront, where waves were crashing over the wall onto the path, and take the main street instead. I guess they hadn’t heard that sections of Laugevegur had been closed due to pieces of roof blowing off the buildings. Taking Hverfisgata, the street between the waterfront and Laugavegur, I headed out into the wind to Harpa, my selected venue for the evening.

Since this post is getting long, I will stop here, and write about Thursday night in a separate post. In case you are worried, though, I will say that in the end, it was not the wind that blew me away.

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