Iceland Airwaves 2012: Day One – Passwords, Halleluwah, Myrra Rós, and Caterpillarmen

Myrra Rós Live at Reykjavík Backpackers

So many shows are called “intimate” that the description now borders on cliché. Of course the show you saw was intimate – what else could you politely call some guy with a guitar that sang to a room of 20 people (who were chatting lightly and paying half-attention to his songs, the rest devoted to their laptop or phone or coffee)?

Intimate, though, is the perfect word to describe Myrra Rós’ live show today, and for entirely different reasons. The kitschy Reykjavík Backpackers coffee shop played host to the Reykjavík native and her band. However typically “intimate” the setting was, it was the loving, understanding give-and-take of the performers that, in subtly sensual use of the term, made the show truly and evocatively intimate.

Myrra Rós’ voice is sweet and rich and thick and you could take it easily by itself, but underneath the easy taste and texture is a surprising grip that provides a certain drunken languidness and sudden giddiness. Her voice today was on point, and as she swayed flowingly with her guitar on stage, there was a welcomely grounded dynamic provided by her band.

As with all true intimacy, there was a deep understanding of touch and feeling. Rós is a dexterous songwriter, able to take her soft, acoustic songs to dizzying heights. Her pitch-perfect voice soared over the audience while her band both stimulated and soothed (where is that cello? Oh, there it is. And that drummer? Just right).

The half-attentive audience typical of an “intimate” show? Absent, and in their place an interactive one. Not only were eyes locked on the performers but during the final song, Rós convinced the audience to sing along, taking her voice to that dizzying place by harmonizing epically with the cooing audience. Unconsciously sensual, Rós and her band truly captivated an audience that could have easily participated in creating the clichéd “intimate” show. No wonder she commented multiple times that the smaller, off-venue shows were her favorite.

Whether Myrra Rós knew it or not, she had her lovers exactly where she wanted them today; she also made at least one new one, though I’m sure I’m not alone.

Halleluwah at Deutsche Bar

So much of rap culture thrives on shared cultural symbols and imitation, for better or for worse.  Some acts transcend and re-appropriate the sharedness of the genre while some fall completely flat – and when they fall, they fall hard.

In a particularly flaccid performance, Halleluwah did just that. When rapper Sölvi Blöndal took the stage, he appeared flushed, falsely cocky, and outdated style-wise. Of course, the group could have transcended their first impression – but they didn’t.

Instead, they bludgeoned through a performance that reinforced every bad stereotype of hip-hop music. Holds crotch while rapping about empty sex with women? Check. References to a life only about chasing drugs and money? Check. Empty, almost reversely racist emulation of Ebonics? Check.

To be fair, Halleluwah did add some embellishments of their own. The drummer made an absolutely ridiculous face in apparent attempt to make the audience laugh… but he wore it the whole time, and it quickly went from weird and uncomfortable to embarrassing. His presence was a further annoyance considering that the best parts of their beats (a little trap hi-hat here, a cutting kick drum there) were simply samples triggered by an unseen hand or backing track. Also, there was a bassist. I’m not sure if the bassist made any noise, but he was definitely there, as rhetorically and aesthetically empty as his bandmates.

Halleluwah proved a disappointing imitation of of hip-hop culture, hitting every checkpoint of a cartoonish “bro” act while missing every highlight of successful rap. Most dissappointing is that Halleluwah sounded nothing like the songs they’ve released online, which are genre-bending and delivered well vocally.

Of course, there were the few obliterated drunks in the audience that appreciated the “Icelandic king of cocaine”‘s comments, but even they seemed bored as the graciously brief set played out flatly.

Caterpillarmen at Iðnó

Caterpillarmen, a progressive Icelandic rock quartet with punk roots, played a rollercoaster set this evening.

The set noisily started with instrumental songs that, while seemingly well-rehearsed, failed to illicit any emotional reaction. While appearing deft with their instruments (and more than a little bit cute), they barreled through the first few songs without any melody or sound for the audience to hold onto.

However, when bassist/vocalist Zakarías Herman Gunnarsson began warbling with a sort of sarcastic sadness, the audience suddenly had something to grasp onto – something that ended up solid. The boys jammed gracefully over an alt. rock sad song before leaving the audience unbalanced again, disappointingly pushing their more anti-melodic rock sound.

However, the four piece shone with irresistible talent and ferocious power when they at first flashed, then totally thrashed into a more punk sound. By the end of their set, they were anthemic with their punk vibe, guitars snarling, vocals mean, drums vicious. The audience thrashed about, too, and the rollercoaster when up for a final, triumphant ending. Punk is clearly where this talented band shines.

 

Passwords at Iðnó

Hailing from Canada, Passwords played their third show of the festival and second today in a brief, but loaded set.

The six-piece started their pace slowly, allowing the audience to soak in their full and textured sound before building into a powerful finale. Backed by two vocalists that doubled as synth players, lead vocalist Thomas L’Allier swooned the audience with borrowed but effective movements. His voice was on point as was his guitar playing, and it wasn’t long before he had most of the crowd swaying, jumping, and/or shaking. The building set finally reached it’s height and, by it’s finale, had everyone tired from dancing – but they were smiling.

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