I tried to curb my excitement, remembering stories of people who allowed their joy to flow too freely and attracted the attention of angry spirits, remembering stories of children named Worthless to protect them from jealous gods. I already knew the danger of anticipating a show too intensely; the more you expect, the greater the chance of disappointment. So I was nervous all day. My favorite band, Sólstafir, was going to play Seattle for the first time in their 20-year career.
There is a metaphor buried here somewhere, or at least some kind of narrative symmetry. I first saw Sólstafir at Iceland Airwaves in 2012. They played in the big hall at Harpa and then barely 12 hours later they played the lobby at KEX Hostel. Outside, hurricane-force winds whipped waves over the seawall onto the road while street lights waved like little flags. When I wrote about it later, I ranked it as one of those shows that breaks the continuity of time so that forever after your life is measured by “before I saw Sólstafir at KEX.” The first such show in my timeline was Corrosion of Conformity with Eye Hate God at Moe’s Mo’Roc’N Café. Last night, Sólstafir played their first show Seattle show at Barboza – on a stage in the basement of the same building, almost directly underneath the stage where I saw CoC almost exactly 20 years ago.
And it was everything I hoped it would be. They played their usual festival set (“Ljós Í Stormi,” “Ótta,” “Fjara,” “Goddess of the Ages”) with “Svartir Sandar” dropped into the middle, an extra I hadn’t heard live since the Harpa show. It felt like a little Seattle Eistnaflug when, instead of festival organizer Stebbi or the reporter from Reykjavik Grapevine, I found myself standing right behind KEXP’s Jim Beckman and right in front of Islander from No Clean Singing.
But Sólstafir’s easy attitude on the stage at Eistnaflug was gone at Barboza. On this night, the Vikings were invading Vínland, and the natives were not putting up a fight. There was no chorus of hundreds singing along to Fjara, but the crowd’s response to Sólstafir was the loudest they got all night. It seemed pretty clear that America is finally ready for Sólstafir, and I am already starting to miss being able to see them up close. Next time they tour the U.S., they will probably be headlining, and I don’t think I’ll be seeing them in a shoebox basement.
I should say something about the other bands, especially since this was one of the strongest lineups to tour the West coast this year. Headliners Pallbearer need no introduction, since they’ve been at the top of every Best of 2014 list published so far. I’d listened to Foundations of Burden and enjoyed it, but I didn’t really get what all the fuss was about before seeing them live. In the hands of truly talented musicians, doom is so much more than repetitive, sludgy riffing. Although Brett Campbell joked, “Tonight there’s a Sabbath cover band playing the club upstairs, and there’s a Sabbath cover band playing downstairs,” Pallbearer’s exquisite melodies and technical bass work that raise them above their genre. Maybe I was influenced by the book I’ve been reading, but they created an atmosphere of equal parts beauty and danger, like the court music of the faery kings in Tolkien or Marion Zimmer Bradley.
I had only heard about, but never heard, openers Mortals, the loudest and most aggressive of the bands on the bill. But I will be listening to them in the future. In some ways (especially the vocals) they reminded me of Atlas Moth, but with a more earthy, rock’n’roll foundation. I loved watching them perform because they were so obviously having a good time – the drummer was practically dancing in her seat. I got the feeling Mortals is a band that understands you can be dead serious about your music without actually buying into the crap about Satan and death and violence.
Last night’s show was sold out with good reason. For those of you missed it, if you leave now, you might get to Boise in time for the show tonight. It’ll be worth the drive.
Pallbearer with Sólstafir & Mortals:
Dec 12: Boise, ID –
The Shredder – http://bit.ly/PLBRid
Dec 13: Salt Lake City UT
– Kilby Court – http://bit.ly/PLBRslc
Dec 14: Denver, CO –
Bluebird Theater – http://bit.ly/PLBRdenver
Dec 16: Kansas City, MO –
The Riot Room – http://bit.ly/PLBRkcmo
Dec 17: Minneapolis, MN –
Triple Rock – http://bit.ly/PLBRmn
Dec 18: Chicago, IL –
Subterranean – http://bit.ly/PLBRchi
Dec 19: St. Louis, MO –
Firebird – http://bit.ly/PLBRstl