And so it came to be that I was hanging out in the Kaffibarinn. The bar-ladies took all the other tables away, but not mine. I get envious looks from the people around me even though I am not that special: I’m hiding in a corner, the corner of the tiny front room of the tiny Kaffibarinn with a beer and my writing stuff, even though the coffee is ridiculously awesome. Still, my table, man, it makes me cool. My table, it is ME.
A giant wearing an Eels sweatshirt shuffles by. An older rocker in sunglasses and a tweed jacket sips an espresso and nods to me like he knows me. Across the room from me some dude who looks a lot like Damien Rice is sound checking, And so it is with secrets: I give them away immediately: I do not see why I should keep them, and in this case Damien is Bedroom Community’s surprise guest to Airwaves off-venue. (He’s in Reykjavik recording a new album hint hint) People do not seem to know: some dudes standing by a wall don’t even know where they are, or who will be playing….a couple girls near me do know, and nothing on earth will move them from the places they’ve chosen for themselves. Soon he vanishes…after all it’s a secret shhhh! so I can chill for a little while longer. Me, my beer, and my table.
mij=Door: Andrew. Foto’s: Dennis
First artist up is Mariam the Believer: Mariam Wallentin, who is this incarnation when she’s doing it by herself (but not alone) and otherwise of Wildbirds and Peacedrums if you remember Haldern Pop or other places. She kicks off with a forceful “ok, let’s do this” which immediately wins my heart over and launches her slightly folksy, slightly soulful set. Her voice has the right amount of rawness to keep me interested but not enough to be too abrasive. The tunes are a little catchy and a little edgy, with just before the end of the set a sudden tribute to En Vogue which I managed to catch even though at the time I was busy falling in love with a tiny Icelandic pixie who, although wearing particularly distasteful gold-lame basketball shoes still managed to press all my buttons at once. I’m also reminded just how lovely the Icelandic (and foreign) Airwaves audiences are, as leaving my beloved table for a chat with my photographer, nature and the barmaid regarding more beer I return to find not only my stuff still there but my chair totally not taken over by some asshat. In fact, some random dude actually points me to my chair and then asks if it’s ok he puts some of his stuff on the table. Holy shit these people are nice. I love it. Reykjavík is officially my most favourite place on earth.
Now it’s time for Valgeir Sigurðsson & Strings, set of classical instrumentals which manage to send a powerful message even though I do not know my classical ups from downs. By ear it’s Icelandic compose-work which is more or less Iceland translated in to music: harsh, emotion rich and both abrasive and delicious, somewhat frightening and deeply beautiful. I listen to the amazing sounds the performers wring from their instruments in the packed but perfectly silent venue. Mentally I am transported back to last Airwaves and the one before where I got to see more (modern) classical work with a strong Bedroom Community presence: Solaris (Daniel Bjarnason/Ben Frost), in the Frikirkjan and the year before ISO with Daniel Bjarnason performing his work Processions in Harpa’s Eldborg space. Very impressive work, if I say so myself.
Kaffibarinn is now literally packed to the roof with people: I’m standing on a chair with one foot on my table and there are others around me also on chairs, people filling up the stairs. One of the barmaids is smiling while she takes pictures of her friends who studiously ignore her as they focus on the man setting up in the corner: Damien Rice. I’ve managed to somehow completely miss Damien musically although I have heard a little of his work here and there. Still, the here and now of Iceland Airwaves makes me want to change this immediately. I find the things Damien notices about life and works in to his songs to be very smart and equally deep. He seems to easily be able to make me draw parallels in my own experiences, and while I am not smart or deep at all the similarities do give me pause to wonder. Perhaps it is the gift of the truly good artist that he or she can take events from life and show everyone just how beautiful, special and tragic these moments are and that everyone shares them; all are connected. That, or a litre of beer has made me all soft and fluffy.
Damien has surrounded himself with capable musician: the ones I can actually see are Hildur Guðnadóttir (edit: oops, it actually was Gyða Valtýsdóttir playing the cello, sorry for the mix up), a very talented young lady who also plays in Múm when she’s not doing her own thing, who is on cello and the man on the drums is the fearsomely awesome Shahzad Ismaily. Unfortunately I cannot see the others although I can hear a trombone and a bass. The audience loves them though and together they are having a really good time. So much in fact that while performing a few extra songs Damien casually mentions that the musicians have not actually had a lot of contact with each other until recently starting his recording process. After the final notes are done and the applause dies away Shahzad mentions that he needs to be in Harpa in 15 minutes but will stay to perform a one song mini-gig. Everyone quiets down and a noisy girl asking loudly who will be playing is shushed in to silence by the entire Kaffibarinn. Gentle voiced Shahzad asks the audience to remember someone dear to them, who they have lost. He borrows Damien Rice’s guitar and covers the song Pale Blue Eyes, written by Lou Reed. Things can not possibly become more beautiful than this.