While everyone else is readying themselves for an assault on NYC for this yearís CMJ Festival, I figured that since I am only three hours away, I should pass on CMJ this year and hit Iceland Airwaves instead. There may not be as many bands, or as many people, but boasting a lineup of established acts such as Gus Gus, Leaves, Singapore Sling, Calla and many more, I chose to head for Reykjavik. Itís a trip I will always remember.
Spread out over three nights, Iceland Airwaves was as much a chance to celebrate the Icelandic lifestyle as check out bands. Well, I just found a way to do both: explore like crazy during the day and check gigs at night. From the airport on Wednesday we went straight to the Blue Lagoon. If you are ever in Iceland, you MUST go here. A naturally heated geothermal pool, the lagoon is the size of two football fields and almost glowing in color, due to naturally occurring blue-green algae. Add that to the fact that itís about 95 degrees fahrenheit in the water and 45 out of it, and you know what Iím talking about.
Thursday brought more adventures in the form of just poking around town. The first thing I noticed is a serious preponderance of hair salons. Seriously, I must have seen at least thirty of them downtown. There were more hair salons than cafes or bars. It was insane. Icelandic people must have the best hairdos in the world. A walk down by the harbor followed by a stroll along the Reykjavik Pond next to City Hall, and a walk along the shopping street up to the amazing HallgrÌmskirkja church in downtown, by far the most obvious building in the city, was part of a great day. And the night was equally wonderful, with sets from Leaves and Calla. The Icelandic wonders that were Leaves played some new songs, along with numbers from their excellent debut, Breathe, with the title track being perhaps the finest song of their set. NYC shoegazers Calla were up next and they wowed the masses at NASA with tunes from their also wondrous album Televise. I stepped outside for some air in-between songs and was amazed at the line outside. It was already packed inside and there were another 75 people trying to get in. Iceland rules! But so do Calla and Leaves, hence the attraction. It was now 1:20 AM and other events were on, but I was burnt and it was time to pass out, especially as we were taking an all day tour the next day.
Up early, but saw some truly amazing sights: the original geyser (where all other geysers got their name), which was dormant, but a smaller one next to it went off every eight minutes and at a height of about 25 feet, so that was really cool; a set of waterfalls called Gullfloss and more scenery across the Icelandic countryside wowed and amazed. The gigs that night were almost as good. It was back to NASA where local boys VINYL were up first. Mixing new wavey ë80s vibes with fervent vocals courtesy of frontman Kristinn J?nÌusson (whose twin plays drums for the outfit), the band had the hometown crowd in their hands. Peep ëem this week at CMJ if you so desire. Singapore Sling rocked the house next, all Jesus & Mary Chain wash and Raveonettes ë50s boogie. They even had a guy whose sole purpose was to play tambourine. Their set-closer, the shimmering ìListen,î as also heard on Player .042, was their finest moment, and one that had their skeleton face-painted crowd jumping around like lunatics. Up next were UK-US pairing The Kills. this duo has a way with garage punk blues and the tones of ìFried My Little Brainî and ìCat Clawî were enough to send the NASA crowd into orbit. I got about halfway through Quarashi before having to go home and pass out, but it was not due to the Icelandic hip-hoppers lack of quality. Many numbers from their US debut, Jinx got the live treatment and I would have loved to stick around, but it was serious naptime.
Saturday brought more daytime exploration and some more nighttime rocking out. Tonightís venue of choice was the Reykjavik Art Museum, strangely enough, for a triple bill of Tenderfoot, Gisli and The Album Leaf. The openers were an acoustic-based singer songwriter troupe, falling in the Jeff Buckley meets Elliott Smith territory. And yes, it was that good. Iíd be surprised if someone doesnít snatch those youngsters up soon. The same goes for Gisli, with their uptempo guitar pop attack. I had been tipped off as to this band being one not to miss and the A&R guy in question was dead on. Nice call. You may recognize the name The Album Leaf. This crew opened for Sigur Ros on their last US tour and provide a similar brand of atmospheric ambient rock, albeit without the amazing vocals of Sigur Rosí Jonsi Birgisson. Still, the songs and skyscraping vibes of The Album Leaf were worth it completely. An amazing end to an amazing set of nights in Iceland. Next year, hit the Airwaves. Itís not to be missed.