Is it just me, or has Airwaves been insanely busy this year? I suppose that should be expected with 220 or so bands playing somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 shows over the course of five days, but it still feels like we’ve been on the go non-stop since we got here, which is funny since we’ve done this before so it’s not like we have a lot of touristy stuff we felt the need to squeeze in. Don’t get me wrong, though, because this is by far the best weather we’ve ever had on any of our seven trips to Iceland (sunny and in the high 30s, with almost no wind at all), so walking around town has been spectacular, and the quality of the bands from top to bottom has been fantastic. I just think I’m going to need a vacation to recover from my vacation.
On Day 4 we finally made our first trek of the trip down to KEX Hostel, where KEXP radio has been doing live broadcasts and filming shows more or less throughout the festival. It’s an intimate setting, and if you get there early like we did for one of our favorite Icelandic bands, Bloodgroup, you can get yourself a spot right in the front and literally be face-to-face with the band. Their set was impressive both for its sound quality and the band’s incredible energy – I was worried someone was going to take a spill with all the bouncing around they did in that small space with its tangle of cords all over the floor. This was the fifth time we’d seen them live (including their one visit to Seattle a few years back when they played at the High Dive), and the first time they had a live drummer with them. I have to say, he was great and I liked his sound a lot more than the typical drum machine. Their set was tight, mostly material from Tracing Echoes but also with one classic thrown in, one of our favorites “These Arms.”
They were followed by múm, a difficult to categorize band – sort of chamber folk pop. múm packed the house and we opted for a spot in the back where we could hear but not see the band, but at the same time not be more or less trapped at the front by a wall of people. I didn’t know if I was going to like them, but I shouldn’t have been worried. Their set seemed to fly by and I’m glad we got a chance to experience one of Iceland’s treasured musical groups.
We opened the on-venue portion of the night at the small rock club Gamli Gaukurinn, a place where we’ve seen lots of great shows in the past. Gamli underwent a facelift since our last visit, so our favorite corner table was gone. The sound system may have been upgraded as well because it was clean and insanely loud. Almost too loud at times (does that mean I’m officially old? Maybe. But louder isn’t always better.). Skepna opened with an in-you-face hard rock/heavy metal assault. They were followed by Fears, a band that really impressed us with their post-punkish, black leather jacket rock sound. We tried to catch up with them after their set to pick up a CD but with no luck, so we may need to check iTunes. Definitely good enough to warrant future listens. Sign was next, and there was some serious head-banging going on in the front row during their metal set. The singer/guitarist took a potentially dangerous spill while balancing on a monitor and the riot barrier, but recovered nicely and continued playing even as he was in a pile on the floor. That, my friends, is rock ‘n’ roll.
That brought us to one of our favorite Icelandic bands, Legend. This was the second time we’d seen them on the trip (amazingly the first time all trip we’d seen the same band twice), and frankly they went off. Travis from the Guerilla Candy blog made it just in time to see them and came away impressed as well. These guys are intense. INTENSE. The sound was great and we all agreed that the singer seemed to mix up his cadences a bit more this time, give the songs a more “live” feel. I’m not sure how he was able to stay upright though given all the flash bulbs going off right in his face. As in maybe six inches from his eyes. C’mon photogs, you know better than that. I get that the dude has a compelling look, but help a brother out. Regardless, great set. Looking forward to the new 7″ they have coming out before the end of the year.
From there it was off to Harpa with the the plan of seeing FM Belfast. Before them was the American folk act Midlake who are obviously great musicians, but just not my cup of Brennivín. British techno DJ Jon Hopikns was up next with an hour long set that while good frankly had so much bass and so much high pitched squealing that it literally became uncomfortable on our ears. So much so that we literally bailed out before FM Belfast, feeling totally spent. Fortunately a slice of hot pizza at 1:30 AM did a lot to restore our confidence in humanity even if it didn’t help our ringing ears.
Hard to believe there’s only one more day left…