Wow, Iceland Airwaves certainly delivered this year!
Holly, Norberto and I had no trouble making it to Iceland from Seattle for our fourth consecutive Airwaves together, but we thought that Hurricane Sandy was going to keep our friend and Airwaves rookie Tristen stuck at home (he was flying to Iceland via Boston). Right up to the last minute we figured he was out of luck and would have to try again in 2013, but the stars were aligned in our favor and he made it to Reykjavik. That being said, the weather in Iceland wasn’t exactly good – there was no rain the entire time we were there (except our last day, which was after the festival ended), but the wind… the wind. Sustained winds at 35+ mph for the first four days, with gusts up to 75 mph. Combine that with the normal seasonal temperatures in the low 30s, and you have some cold and rough conditions for walking around town. But we didn’t let it stop us.
We met lots of other Americans in Reykjavik, most of who were there for the first time – so we provided some band and restaurant recommendations, and it was fun seeing the same people pop up in different places over the course of the week. Of course, we also made sure to show Tristen the sights and hook him up with some of our favorite places to eat (I’m pretty sure his favorite was the waffle truck that we hit up at about 2:30 AM on Sunday morning after we left our last show…).
We also got to see some of our Icelandic friends. We saw Arnor Arnorson, the lead signer of the band Agent Fresco, a couple of times, and he was absolutely great as always. We first met Arnor last year, and if you haven’t checked out Agent Fresco, you owe it to yourself to give it a listen. I emailed him earlier this year when they were on their European tour, and he was nice enough to save a copy of their new album on vinyl for me, as well as a copy of their limited edition (of 300) acoustic CD. We also spent a lot of time (or at least I did) hanging out at our favorite record store, Lucky Records. Ingvar hooked me up with some great vinyl, just as he did last year, and he even invited us to join his family for dinner which was a great experience that got us out of the city and into the ‘burbs.
The quality of the bands continues to improve each year, and this time around we made a point of hitting up a lot of the off venue shows. There were off venue concerts just about everywhere you can think of. We saw them in book stores, record stores, hostels, bars, and even inside a shipping container. Anywhere someone could pull enough power to plug in some amps, there were bands playing. And if there wasn’t enough power, they probably had someone there playing acoustic.
It’s always hard to come up with favorites, but below are my impressions based on the 39 shows and 35 bands I saw.
Best Show: This has to be the Agent Fresco acoustic set off venue at the Nordic House. I admit, they’re already one of my favorite bands, so I’m certainly biased. But listening to Arnor introduce each song and explaining what it meant to him was special. Honorable mentions for Dr. Spock and Skálmöld.
Best Venue: Without a doubt Gamli Gaukurinn was my favorite spot to watch a show. It’s a small venue, so you’re always close to the action, and the sound is great. We were there three times over the course of five days and caught 10 different bands.
Best “New to Me” Band: This is tough. I’m going with Legend, who we saw opening night at Gamli. I was not prepared for the gothic electronic onslaught, but it was hard not to get sucked in. I liked the band enough that their album was the first of the ones we bought on the trip that I listened to, and I suspect it will get more and more plays.
Biggest Surprise: Twice we walked into business to find the employees rocking out to Seattle hip hop artist Macklemore’s new track “Thrift Shop”. Go figure.
Airwaves ’12 is in the books. Will we go for the fifth straight year in 2013? Only time will tell…