It is always great when you get the chance to see bands when they tour in support of their greatest piece of work, which is what I think "Otta" is for Solstafir. During their extensive touring schedule they stopped by Glasgow's Audio and gave us an amazing performance.
The Audio is quite a unique venue, it is essentially a dodgy-looking room underneath a train overpass. A lot of work has been done on the place and it is not as freezing cold as it once was, but what is great about it is the level of intimacy it brings out during a gig. This however was the first gig I’ve been to at this specific venue where barriers were put between the stage and the crowd. Honestly, they felt a bit out of place but overall they didn’t effect the intimacy of the show. I should also mention that this was probably the most “international” crowd I have ever seen at a Glaswegian concert. Germans, Americans and obviously a few people from Iceland came along to support the band.
Supporting act was a local band called Thrum. They used to be a big player in the Glaswegian indie scene during the 90’s, subsequently disbanded, and now have been back together and active since 2011. I understand that there is some history between them and Solstafir, which is the only thing that makes sense for their selection as a supporting act.
Their genre of music didn’t really fit in with the show’s atmosphere and their folky stylings were a bit out of place. That has nothing to do with the quality of their tunes, as they were pretty much top notch, albeit a bit repetitive, but they were still out of character. I particularly enjoyed the basslines of most of their songs but had quite a difficult time distinguishing the lead guitar out of the mix (that is probably my standing point’s fault, rather than the band’s/sound engineer’s).
Next up was Solstafir. Audio’s grim look was ideal for the band’s obscure yet oddly approachable soundscapes and the smoke machine added much to the atmosphere. Opening track, “Köld”, from 2009’s album with the same name quickly put us in the appropriate mood. Gloomy, intense and powerful. I don’t know if it had to do with their music, the nature of Icelanders in general or some other weird bias in my stupid head, but I assumed that Solstafir would be rather cold on stage. I was pleasantly surprised with the opposite, as frontman Aðalbjörn "Addi" Tryggvason (totally pasted that from Wikipedia) was an all-around great performer.
First of all, he has one of the most badass guitars I have ever seen. He primarily sports a wooden flying v with what appears to be serpent (?) carvings on it, as well as a hoop-linked strap. I can’t really describe it but it is truly a very impressive set of gear. Secondly, despite a very slight language barrier, he was very talkative and engaging with the crowd (which can be rather difficult at times when dealing with drunk Glaswegians on a night out). There were a few technical difficulties during the first couple of songs and after everything was sorted he nonchalantly stated “A friend of mine used to say that there is no such thing as problems, only solutions. He was shot”. I am not ashamed to admit that I chuckled hard to his brand of black humour.
It goes without saying that their latest effort, “Otta”, was their main focal point on the night’s setlist, as six out of the ten tracks played was off of it, and I had absolutely no problem with that. The tracks were wonderfully performed on stage and they really brought the studio versions to life. I was really surprised to see the title track’s banjo actually made an appearance on stage, played by guitarist Sæþór Maríus "Pjúddi" Sæþórsson (also shamelessly copied from Wikipedia). However, what did take away from some of the experience was the fact that a great deal of keyboard and string parts were playback tracks played off an mp3 player. Normally I wouldn’t mind that much, as I fully understand how logistics come in to play when a lot of gear is required, but tracks such as "Lágnætti" which are heavily based on said instrumentation were a bit awkward to watch live, as the musicians on stage weren’t required to do a thing for a substantial amount of time, which kind of takes you out of the whole live experience.
Other than that, the band was perfect. The whole time they were on stage they were captivating, and Addi kept proving his chops as an excellent frontman. He would often rest one leg on the barrier and play guitar almost among the crowd and at one point near the end of the concert, he actually left the stage, climbed on the adjacent bar and sang closing song “Goddess Of The Ages” from up their, swirling amongst the low hanging light bulbs.
All and all, this was one of the most enjoyable gigs I have been to this year and was lucky enough to year a plethora of songs live straight from what could quite possibly be a top contender for album of the year. Kudos to Solstafir.
Goddess Of The Ages