Iceland Airwaves Day One (11/5): Halleluwah, Agent Fresco (REVIEW)

Halleluwah was set and ready to perform Wednesday evening at Dillon, an off-venue stage of Iceland Airwaves 2014, until the sound cut out completely two chords into the opening piece. 15 minutes into their set time, producer and percussionist Sölvi Blöndal finally fell right into a strong drum beat, opening their set with no introduction to the attic-venue atmosphere on Dillon’s upper floor. Vocalist Rakel Mjöll’s voice was haunting as she kept with the lurching percussive rhythm, but her voice played off a totally different pitch than the minor chords radiating from the synthesizer. It was noticeable, but it’s a risk that only adds to Halleluwah’s dark, yet religiously targeted mystique.

“We all love drums,” said Mjöll. “That makes us a perfect match.”

The crowd stood two feet in front of her, and she drew them into a trance with a sly smirk and attention-demanding eye contact as a live drum set pounded over an electronic drum board, shaking the floor of Dillon as Mjöll spelled out “C-H-R-I-S-T.” With Blöndal yelling backup vocals with no help from a mic, Halleluwah played a full 20 minute set that achieved the feeling of a more powerful presence.

A few hours later at Gamla Bíó, a much larger venue with a second story balcony over the main floor, Agent Fresco took the stage.

“This is a very special show,” said vocalist Arnór Dan Arnarson. “Tonight we will only be playing songs from out forthcoming album that will be released early next year.”

Agent Fresco opened into their first new number with hard popping drums and staccato guitar riffs. It was immediately apparent that their new music was headed in a different direction that their previous work. Having previously produced upbeat music with silky smooth harmonies, Agent Fresco immediately made it known that they’re newest release would be heavily influenced by a stronger rock style.

“This new album was originally supposed to be about happy things, but it became about devastation rather than celebration.” Arnarson said after explaining that this album had been in the works for almost two years. “This album is about my journey with negative feelings instead of happy ones.”

Arnarson went on to reveal his experience of having a breakdown on stage while performing in Copenhagen in front of a thousand people. This occurrence fueled his new lyricism for the upcoming album whose title is yet to be revealed. In contrast to Agent Fresco’s previous harmonic bliss, Arnarson sang solo in each new song, emphasizing his vulnerability with strained screams and high pitches cries like never before.

To close the set, Agent Fresco surprised the audience with “Dark Water,” a song off their first album that ended with several thanks from Arnarson, who gained a memory of his fans acceptance that hopefully balanced out his experience in Copenhagen.

It might be hard to believe that these shows took place the day that the WCRX Iceland Airwaves team arrived in Reykjavík. Before we got down to work, we explored the city with history dating back to the Viking era that has a preserved Viking home exhibit to prove it. To truly experience a piece of Icelandic culture, we went to Sundhöllin, a local swimming pool in Reykjavík that had “hot pots” (hot tubs) and saunas to soothe our traveling woes before we jumped into our work. I left, still having no sleep, relaxed and rejuvenated for the festival.

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