Shortly after I arrived, I saw a post in the Facebook group “Away from Home – Living in Iceland” offering a ticket to a concert by the Icelandic group Of Monsters and Men. They were kicking off their world tour to promote a new album, Beneath the Skin.
OMAM’s first album, My Head is an Animal, placed four songs in the top 20 on the US alternative rock/folk charts. They were featured in the soundtracks for “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” and as it happens, they’re also my favorite Icelandic group. I immediately sent a message to the person selling the ticket. Alas, I was too late.
Or not. The next day, she contacted me to let me know that the first would-be buyer never showed up, and she’d be happy to sell the ticket to me. Her asking price was face value: 5000 Icelandic Krona (ISK) or roughly $37.50 USD, which was more than fair given that the concert had been sold out for weeks.
The concert venue was Harpa, the convention center in downtown Reykjavik. It’s a striking building, perched on the water’s edge at the harbor, with gorgeous views of the water and of Mt. Esja, the mountain overlooking the capital from the north.
Harpa almost didn’t happen. It was a public-private partnership that nearly got derailed by the financial crisis here a few years back. When the Icelandic economy collapsed, construction had only progressed to the point of excavation – meaning there was a giant hole in the ground at the water’s edge, and no money to finish the work. Some folks subscribed to the view that they should fill in the hole and pretend it never happened, while others suggested leaving the hole as a reminder of how things went so terribly, terribly wrong. The option that was ultimately selected, though, was to finish the project, making it partly symbol of national hope and confidence and partly of defiance at the crisis.
Because the concert was sold out and OMAM is a popular local band, I decided to go to Harpa a bit early, arriving about an hour before the concert was set to begin. No one else was there. After about half an hour, when still no one was there, I got a little nervous and went out to ask the folks at the box office if there was a delay. No, I was told; it’s just Iceland. Everyone would be there about 5 minutes before the event. Sure enough, like clockwork, the crowd filtered in in one brief surge and the music started shortly thereafter.
I don’t know a good way to describe the concert except to say that it was a lot of fun: the band clearly was charged up to be performing before friends and families at home before starting their tour, and the hometown crowd loved them.
My favorite moment came during performance of Six Weeks, a song that features a lot of drumwork, when female lead singer Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir led the other women in the band to the back of the bandstand to take over the percussion section. They hammered away while the men stood around looking at each other as if to say You wanna try and take back the drums? No way, man, they’re armed with sticks and they know how to use them. You go first. Like all good spontaneous moments, it was probably planned in advance; but they were obviously having a lot of fun, and that made it fun for the crowd too.
The concert was well worth the price, and a great distraction from class, which to be perfectly honest was beginning to scare me. More on that in my next few posts.