While in my Northwest home, I got to experience a bit of my Iceland home in the form of seeing two Icelandic bands in concert. I had known about one for months, and the other was a serendipitous happening.
The band Árstíðir has been on their first US tour, and several months ago I found out they’d be playing a show at the new Nordia House cultural center while I’d be stateside. The new home of the Scandinavian Heritage Foundation (SHF), Nordia House is a beautiful 10,000 square-foot building that includes office space, an outpost of the Swedish Broder restaurant (which has two Portland locations), and of course a large multipurpose auditorium.
I went by myself but almost immediately ran into my Icelandic friend Edda. She introduced me to the only other Icelandic person there, a woman name Kristrún, and with the two of them I enjoyed my only opportunity in five weeks to speak Icelandic.
Anyway, the band played a long set, and even indulged the crowd with an a cappella version of the hymn “Heyr himna smiður,” popularly known as “that song everyone on the internet has seen them perform in a German train station” (I must admit that I prefer Eivør’s version).
I feel like listening to Árstíðir’s music takes a bit more focus and attention than a lot of popular music, which is certainly not a bad thing, it just makes for a different sort of listening experience. In any case, the Portland audience, despite the fact that I think many were hearing the band for the first time, was completely attentive, seemed to be absolutely smitten and insisted on an encore.
Shortly after my Snorri trip in 2012, I got connected to SHF and quickly learned than while it purports to be a pan-Nordic organization, there really has been very little Icelandic representation, the primary reason being that Portland boasts much larger populations of Norwegians, Danes, Swedes, and Finns. But I would of course love to see more Icelandic participation in SHF, and it was absolutely encouraging to see that one of their first big events at Nordia House was this concert – and, moreover, that it was so well received.
Kaleo is a four-piece bluesy rock band formed in Mosfellsbær but now based in the great state of Texas. I actually started listening to them fairly recently and wanted to attend one of their two Reykjavík shows this summer, but the first was while my mom was visiting and ticket prices were quite steep, and the second was while I’d be in Washington. I’d been home for a week or so when my sister told me that she’d heard something on the radio about a Kaleo concert, but she couldn’t find any information about it online. After some sleuthing, I figured out that they were playing a free show in collaboration with Portland radio station KINK.FM. Tickets were free, but in order to get them, you had to download the radio station’s app, listen at certain times for the Magic Word, and then enter the Magic Word into the app. In other words, you had to jump through some ridiculous hoops. But I decided to try it once, and that’s all it took – I won two tickets!
So on a ridiculously hot Saturday, after a long day at my high school reunion, I forced myself to get back in my car and drive down to Portland. The show was at Mississippi Studios, a cozy venue on Mississippi Avenue and coincidentally the place where I saw Ólafur Arnalds a couple years ago.
There was a good crowd, but not so many that I felt in danger of suffocating. The band played a fairly short (maybe an hour?) but great set. Their style really lends itself well to live performance. They were full of energy and I think they definitely won over some new fans in the audience.
Jökull, the lead singer (whose name literally translates to Glacier, Son of Júlíus, a fact which endlessly entertains me), mentioned that the band had just briefly returned to Iceland to shoot a music video inside a volcano for their new single “Way Down We Go.” About a week after the concert, the single and video were released. They filmed inside Þríhnúkagígur, a dormant volcano in the south less than thirty minutes from Reykjavík. (Anyone willing to part with 39.000 ISK/302 USD/399 CAD can enjoy the Inside a Volcano experience, although it is limited to the summer months.)
It’s always a strange and wonderful experience to experience a melding of my Northwest and Iceland worlds, and I’m especially thrilled to see more of Iceland popping up in Portland. Here’s hoping that trend continues.