Iceland Airwaves '07 - Day Four
Arctic glaciers, volcanoes and awesome wilderness, Iceland is a place of extreme and stark beauty, a land like no other. And Iceland Airwaves is a music festival like no other. Each year downtown Reykjavik showcases the finest in Icelandic talent alongside quality European and American imports. It's an opportunity to see established and up-and-coming acts in intimate bars and clubs in the company of some of the most hospitable gig-goers in the world. And, what's best, no campsites.
Day Four: Saturday, 20th October
Hraun open the final night of the main festival schedule at the Art Museum with some eager-to-please pop-rock. They seek to charm in that inimitably Icelandic way, warm and engaging, quick to share quips about troll love and synchronised drinking in-between songs. Unfortunately they lack any real musical guile, their approach stiflingly comfortable and formulaic. Next on is the ginger-quiffed Jónas Sigur�sson who begins with a brace of gratifyingly chest-thumping songs, imagine an Icelandic Damien Dempsey. Unfortunately the singer's early promise dissipates and the remainder of the set veers dangerously close to Eurovision territory, so close one can almost hear the acidic one-liners rolling of Wogan's tongue.
I was curious to see Hjaltalín, a band sold as the Scandinavian Arcade Fire. How woefully wide of the mark those descriptions proved to be. The only similarity between the two acts is that both contain an unusually large number of players, however, where the Canadians create magic from their dizzying assortment of musicians, the Icelanders can conjure only several kinds of dull. A major disappointment. However, they were nowhere near as buttock-clenchingly embarrassing as Hafdis Huld.
Songs that were out-of-date slabs of processed pop cheese, Huld's set stank to the high heavens. Her pixie shtick borrowed heavily from the Sylvia Young school of dramatic insincerity, dolloping the cutesy on until it became sickening. Lyrically meanwhile we were in the land of the infantile, "Ice cream is nice / Monsters are bad" being one particularly memorable slice of the absurdly obvious. The generous might say it's a metaphor, but I suspect not.
Far from a good evening for the home sides then, the chasm in ability between them and the established foreign acts all too obvious as America's Annuals take the stage and proceed to deliver a purposeful and striding set, full of lunatic thrills and melodic sleight-of-hand. 'Brother' provides a sweet bounty of tunefulness, singer Adam Baker spitting lyrical darts sharp and true, as the statuesque, exceedingly attractive keyboard player, Anna Spence unfurls line after line of loveliness. The penultimate act, Annuals set a high benchmark for headliners, Bloc Party.
It was a standard the English act not only reached, but surpassed, their angular rock flaying a delirious audience alive, our nerve-endings exposed and left to the mercies of their unashamedly dramatic rock. They are dogged by technical problems throughout the set, but still manage to sound more furiously alive and relevant than any other act on the evening's bill. 'Pioneers' is effortlessly epic, 'She's Hearing Voices' is tuned into some strange frequencies, all twitchy, paranoiac menace and 'Hunting For Witches' provides a dazzling four-minute resumé of the ills of a modern Britain turned medieval inquisitor state. Intelligent and invigorating and a totally satisfying conclusion to Iceland Airwaves '07.