Iceland Airwaves 2019, Day 1

After a one year absence, Holly and I and our intrepid friend Norberto made it back to Reykjavik for our 10th Iceland Airwaves together.  Joined by Tristen (4th Airwaves) and Andy (3rd) we are rolling deep this year. And while I certainly missed the bands last year as a work project kept me confined state-side, what I missed most was seeing the friends we’ve made over the years attending the festival, be they folks who live in Iceland or those who, like us, make annual or sometimes sporadic visits to this rock in the Atlantic.

But first, Holly and I spent a few days in London at the start of the trip.  We did so specifically to see A-Ha perform at Royal Albert Hall (below), a two-set performance that featured all of Hunting High and Low in order, an intermission, then another dozen or so songs from the band’s catalog.  To see such a great band perform at such a seminal venue was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we enjoyed every minute of it.  A-Ha still has it, that’s for sure.  If they ever make it stateside again, we’ll definitely consider a trip to go see them.

aharoyalalbert After seeing A-Ha on a Tuesday night, it was off to Reykjavik for the start of Airwaves the very next day.  By time we got into the city, dropped off our bags, and made our way down to get our wristbands it was getting close to 6PM.  At the media center we got to say hi to our friends Bob and Ingvar from Lucky Records before dashing into the night in search of food followed by the first band at 8PM.  It wasn’t relaxing, but it’s why we’re here. Some nights we bounce around from venue to venue, others we camp out in one spot all night.  For Day 1 we opted for the latter and headed to the Reykjavik Art Museum because we really wanted to see the opening and closing bands there, plus as an added benefit sandwiched in the middle was up-and-comer and recently signed Sub Pop artist Orville Peck.

And away we go! First up was the trio Kælan Mikla.  We first saw them live at Airwaves back in 2015 and I for one was blown away by the sheer emotion their songs were drenched in, all angst and doom and beauty wrapped into one.  Since then we’ve seen them two more times at Airwaves, and again a couple of months ago in Seattle opening for Test Dept. That Seattle show revealed a more refined and intentional band, one confident in their abilities but one that also felt like it lost a little of that raw edge, that slightly open wound that you just can’t help but pick at.  However, they brought that back at Airwaves, especially in the vocals.  They owned the big room with both their music and their presences and it was definitely the best all-around show of theirs I’ve seen.  Next up was aYia, an intriguing trio about who not a lot is known and who have not yet released any material in a physical format, though they do have some stuff on Bandcamp HERE.  This was our second time seeing them and they delivered a dreamy set comprised of fluid electronics and almost mystical vocals.

That brought us to Orville Peck (below), the country-styled masked crooner who seems to be taking the online world by storm at the moment.  And it’s easy to understand why, with his (and his band’s) unique style of dress, easy presence on stage, and songs about transvestites who work in country bars.  They played ’em fast and they played ’em hard, and while this generally isn’t my thing, Peck is a great performer and it was a fun set, one I’m glad we got to see.

orvillepeckairwaves Last, but definitely far from least, we arrived at the promised land – Une Misère (below).  With a new album, Sermon, due on the shelves any day now, they found themselves in top form, a five-man hardcore and metal attack that will tear your spine from your body.  They flat out attacked the audience, which responded with a series of mosh pits and a fair amount of head-banging.  As if that wasn’t enough, one of my all time favorite Icelandic vocalists joined them on stage for a song – Arnór Dan Arnarson of Agent Fresco fame.  Never one to shy away from screaming into the mic, Arnór and Une Misère vocalist Jón Már Ásbjörnsson battled it out to see who could shred their vocal cords first, ending in a tie as neither broke down nor gave in.  I’m very much looking forward to their new album.

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As an added bonus, we were able to connect with some of our friends as well.  “Scotland Paul” (♠) and members of his crew caught up with us earlier in the evening, followed by “Vancouver Matt” (♣) and Tanya.  Catching up with old friends and making new ones is one of the best parts of Airwaves, and we can’t wait to hook up with more of them as the festival continues.

(♠)  As we refer to him at home, as in “did you see what Scotland Paul posted on Instagram today?”

(♣)  See above

A-Ha – “Hunting High And Low – The Early Alternate Mixes” (2019)

ahahuntingrsdA-Ha was Mrs. Life In The Vinyl Lane’s first favorite band and is still probably in her Top 3 (and maybe still #1), and we all know what an impact your first favorite band has on your musical life – you never ever forget them.  So when I saw there would be a Record Store Day release of early alternate mixes of their seminal album Hunting High And Low I knew I needed to be on the lookout for a copy.  Frankly I didn’t expect it to be that hard to find, even though the edition size was fairly small (2,450 copies… not 2,500 mind you, 2,450…) for such an iconic band, but we struck out locally.  Fortunately, however, Al Gore invented the internets I and was able to secure a copy for pretty much the retail price online via Discogs.  Thanks Al!

I’m not an expert on the A-Ha catalog.  Certainly I know the mega-hits from Hunting High And Low (“Take On Me” and “The Sun Always Shines On TV”) because, well, if you watched MTV at all in 1985-86 you couldn’t miss these videos – “Take On Me” in particular seemed to be played about once an hour for six months straight.  I also don’t have nearly enough experience with this record to hear the differences between the studio version and these alternate takes, though Holly certainly could.  What I can tell you is that this thing sounds perfect – no cracking, no hissing, pure sonic clarity.  In fact I’d say it’s probably one of the 10 best sounding records I own.  So if you’re interested, have no fear – these “early” takes are fully produced and sound tremendous.

a-ha – “Hits South America” (2016)

a-hahitssouthamericaI picked this RSD release up because Holly is both a big a-ha fan and likes live recordings. We’ve got a few other live a-ha albums, and while I’m generally ambivalent about the band, I’ve got to say that their live stuff always sounds great.

These five tracks were recorded in Brazil on the band’s 1981 South America tour, and apparently are all previously unreleased.  And let me tell you, the recording quality is outstanding, and this version of “Manhattan Skyline” is making me think I need to take a deeper listen to the a-ha catalog.  “Hunting High and Low” is also excellent with its combination acoustic guitar and strings opening.  The producer hit it out of the park here, striking the perfect balance between the vocals and music, with richness and depth to the sound.

My only complaint with Hits South America is the length – it’s a five song EP, and I feel like it could have easily been extended to a full length album that would have been outstanding.  I’m not sure why they chose this shorter format, though I’m glad that these songs were able to see some type of release.  This one is well worth the purchase if you’re an a-ha fan.

a-ha – “Twelve Inch Club” (1986)

a-ha12inchclubThis was another record I picked up at The Record Museum while visiting Hong Kong a few weeks ago.  I bought it primarily because Holly is a big fan of a-ha and I knew she’d think it was pretty cool, which turned out to be correct.

The four song EP Twelve Inch Club was one of two 12″ records released in 1986 only in Japan and featuring songs from a-ha’s mega-hit LP Hunting High and Low.  It appears, though, that the mixes may be different than the originals, as “Train of Thought” and “The Sun Always Shines on TV” are both credited as “(Steve Thompson Mix),” while “And You Tell Me” is a demo version.  The fourth track is a dub version of “Train of Thought.”  Interestingly the jacket cover appears to be a near copy of the band’s 1985 12″ Train of Thought.  The OBI strip on the bottom of Twelve Inch Club advertises the dates and locations of a-ha’s Japan shows scheduled for July 1986.

The two Steve Thompson mixes are both considerably longer than the originals, with each coming in at over seven minutes and including some long music-only interludes.  The demo version of “And You Tell Me” is almost identical in length to the original, and I’m not familiar enough with the a-ha catalog to be able to tell you how it differs from the album version.  The dub version of “Train of Thought” is a straight-up dance track, and an awfully good one at that.

Twelve Inch Club probably only appeals to the hard core a-ha fan, but if that’s you then you’re going to enjoy the extended versions of these tracks.

International Party Mix

It’s that time of year again.  Time for the 16th Annual Post-Holiday Holiday part at the Life in the Vinyl Lane house.  We put on this shindig every January and invite our friends over to eat and drink their fill.  And, as we’ve done for the last 10 or so years, we also made an official party CD as a give away for those who stop by.  This year we’re going with a sort of travel theme to the festivities, so the 16 artists on the CD are all from different countries.  Here’s what we put together:

1.  “Pale Green Ghost” – John Grant (USA)
2.  “Storm” – Django Django (Scotland)
3.  “Iso Pasi” – Lama (Finland)
4.  “Amidinine” – Bombino (Niger)
5.  “Don’t Mess” – Juvelen (Sweden)
6.  “Feel Like You Should” – Shiny Darkly (Denmark)
7.  “Hand of Law” – Radio Birdman (Australia)
8.  “Egu Szot Se Szoij” – Sarolta Zalatnay (Hungary)
9.  “Gleipnir” – Skálmöld (Iceland)
10.  “Dynamite” – Jamiroquai (England)
11.  “Manhattan Skyline” – A-ha (Norway)
12.  “Wenu Wenu” – Omar Souleyman (Syria)
13.  “Top of the World” – Shonen Knife (Japan)
14.  “Mission a Paris” – Gruppo Sportivo (Netherlands)
15.  “O mundo é já aqui” – OVO (Portugal)
16.  “Someone Says” – Casino Royale (Italy)

We think it’s a pretty cool mix, so we’re excited to hear what our guests think.

But for now, I have to get back to some serious party prep.

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