I posted about how much I love A Long Time Listening by the Icelandic band Agent Fresco back on 10/9/12, and that was before I saw them live three more times at Iceland Airwaves ’12. I believe that brings my number of Agent Fresco live shows up to six… which I think is also the most times I’ve ever seen a single band (putting them in a tie with Sugar Ray, and possibly Hillstomp… and I suspect they’ll move into the top spot during Airwaves ’13). And I have to say, they get better every single year, and this year was no exception. Arguably the best show I saw over the five days of Airwaves this year was the acoustic set they put on at the Nordic House. If you don’t believe me, you can find video of all the songs they performed that afternoon on YouTube.
Agent Fresco embarked on a month-long European tour starting at the end of May, and one of the pieces of merch they took with them was a five-song acoustic CD called Live at Gamla Bíó. The tracks were recorded live on March 9, 2012 during a show at Gamla Bíó in Reykjavik, and all five appear on their studio album A Long Time Listening: “Anemoi,” “Silhouette Palette,” “Above these City Lights,” “Implosions,” and “Tempo”. The disc was also a hand-numbered limited edition of 300, which made me panic when I read about it on Facebook since I really wanted to get my hands on a copy. A few emails with the band later and I was assured I’d be able to get a copy from them at Airwaves, and while I was impatient to hear it, I was relieved to know I’d get one. And sure enough, following their acoustic show at the Nordic House, the band had copies for sale (and sold everything they’d brought with them) and I was able to pick up one for me, and one for a friend.
I feel kind of selfish writing about a CD like this that chances are you won’t be able to find. But Agent Fresco is just so good that I have to write about them, and you can still check out some of their acoustic stuff on YouTube. Plus you can find three of the tracks from Live at Gamla Bíó on iTunes, either as single songs or bundled with A Long Time Listening, which is cool.
When played acoustic, their songs take on a totally different vibe, shifting from the high-energy rock to a very emotional and personal intensity. For one thing, they bring in a string section to join them. I’m not sure how many players there were at this live show, but I believe there were three violins and a cello at their Nordic House, and I suspect it was the same on this EP. Take away the drum kit and have Hrafnkell Örn Guðjónsson keeping the beat using a drum box, and there’s almost a bit of a Latin vibe going on. Plus with the volume and other instruments lower, Guðjónsson’s backing vocals take on a much more prominent and plaintive role, something I noticed when I saw them do two shows about four hours apart on the same day, one acoustic and one electric. His sound is a perfect accompaniment to Arnarson’s lead vocals, and he really shines in the acoustic setting.
When you know that this album is about Arnorson’s feelings as he came to grips with the passing of his father, you can’t help but get a lump in your throat during some of the songs. The emotional current runs deep in Agent Fresco’s music, and even more so when done acoustic. After the close of their live acoustic show one of my friends told me, “I was tearing up in there during some of those songs.” Yeah, so was I.
Go check them out on YouTube. They’ll make a believer out of you. Then go to iTunes and plunk down the $10.99 to get a copy of A Long Time Listening, complete with three live acoustic tracks. You won’t regret it.