Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Gig Review - Asgeir

Live @ The Forum, Melbourne (22 July, 2014)
Review by Lou Endicott

A few weeks ago amidst a heavy work schedule I had a golden date with music awesomeness scrawled into my diary: Asgeir at The Forum in Melbourne. My fellow music fan and friend, Paul and I had been talking excitedly about this artist for several months prior to the live event. For those not in the know, Icelandic musician Asgeir (pronounced “Os-gee-ah”) is relatively new on the Australian music scene. For his young age (he’s only 22) he has managed to record an album which approximately half of his native country own a copy of.

I can’t quite explain what it is that Asgeir does to my heart when I hear his music. It’s immediately familiar territory with its beautiful folk sensibilities, soft vocal lines and acoustic guitar. But it is at once new and exciting with its melodic dips and turns, lyrical mastery and gorgeous layering of instruments including electronic sampling and powerful drums. I have to admit some of the music of his album Into The Silence has filled my ears and heart with such emotive beauty that I have been left weeping (often while driving in peak hour stand still traffic – not a good look when people are staring into your car looking concerned. I just want to shout, “Check out this music! If you don’t get it you’re dead inside!!”) But you know, that’s not my style… Needless to say I think I became a fan of Asgeir almost upon my first listen.

The Forum is one of Melbourne’s best concert venues with its domed ceiling and Roman-esque statues adorning the gorgeous and intricate proscenium arch. There is something almost magical about the venue itself with its preservation of history and finery – right down to the foyers in the toilets. The magic bled into anticipation as the room became suddenly silent. The stage was darkened as the music begun. A soft and gentle voice sung out into the dark unaccompanied in what I can only assume was Icelandic. Much dry ice started to flow over the stage as the lights gently came up.

A side note here: My friend Paul and I were happy to have a staked out a spot quite close to the stage while watching the support act. As soon as the lights came up though more than a few people pushed past us rudely with much force and carelessness to get closer to the stage. Those around us who had been patiently waiting were all dismayed at this new influx of people pushing and shoving. I made a mental note here to write this in my review: crowd pushing = uncool folks (particularly if the concert has already started). Pick your spot, get there early and stay put.

Asgeir and his band entered through the dry ice in a lighting wash of red, blue and orange - colours to warm the crowd and bring us straight into the heart space. “Head in the Snow” led the set with its gentle tripped beat and gorgeous humming intro. I was immediately beaming the kind of smile that can only come from listening to an album over and over and finally hearing it live. I love the lyrics. “Hope and faith, don’t you fail me now…” Some soaring angelic stadium worthy guitar took the sound up into the ether and lifted the audience up with it.

Next up we were treated to an Icelandic version of the album's title track “In the Silence”. This was the first song that I heard from Asgeir and it captured me immediately. Both Paul and I had speculated whether or not we might hear something sung in Icelandic. This song was such a joy to hear in its original form. The uplifting drums, soft yet soaring vocals and driving intensity really shone through – even though the language was not my own. As far as I’m concerned I think this song could melt all the ice that Asgeir’s country is famous for. “Lupin Intrigue” (another favourite off the album) came in next with its electronic hook mixed with gorgeous acoustic keys. A light streamed from behind Asgeir creating another worldly visual of an angel. Asgeir invested in stillness as he sung - holding his power with his delicate voice and engaging stage presence. With its delicious electronic tweet throughout the song, I kept imagining a scene in a hospital with a patient in surgery seeing an angel watch over them. If you’ve read any of my reviews before you will know that to me music can become a visual medium with the addition of a little of my imagination. I make no apologies for it.

The first song off the album, “Higher” brought some singing to the crowd. I am usually all for a crowd to join in a song and share the jubilation of music together. However Paul and I were standing next to one of the pusher-in-ers who started to screech sing at the top of her voice as she swung her drink about above her head. The song “Higher” is not your classic sing-along anthem by any stretch. It’s more of an end-of-the-day-let-all-the-stress-go-and-chill-right-down kind of number. A few looks of the audience around me confirmed I wasn’t the only one wishing she would stop.

After “Higher” Asgeir thanked the crowd for coming before swapping his acoustic guitar for another and then launching into “Summer Guest”. The album version is very folky in a simple stripped back 60s songwriter kind of way – perhaps a little like Nick Drake or even a bit Simon and Garfunkel. The live version however was delivered with a slide guitar adding a whole new twist of country to the arrangement. I adore the simple lyrical journey of this song. Originally I interpreted the song lyrics to tell the story of a passing musician who had inspired Asgeir. “Perched upon a branch of green…He rests his legs from the long journey…Warms my heart with one true song…I listen close, to tales of battles won…” That is until one night with a wine in hand my friend Paul patiently stated the ridiculously obvious: “I think it’s about a bird Lou. The bird is the summer guest who leaves his song. Asgeir awaits his return for next years season.” Sometimes I look so hard for meaning I miss what is right in front of me. I love how music is open to interpretation.

“Was there nothing but the hush of night…” Asgeir sung out into the darkened room bathed in a soft pink light. The hush of the crowd was more than apparent here as we entered into solo singer/guitarist territory with the song “Was There Nothing?”. Around here Paul turned to me and said, “This guy is going to be huge. I can’t believe we are here watching and listening to THIS!” I concurred. I was absolutely filled with joy to be in the venue letting this beautiful music penetrate. “Yes the good was not without the bad. Raise up your swords and shields...” sung Asgeir. There was only good in the delivery of this amazing number.

A blackout brought the groove slickly back into the spotlight. The song “Going Home” was next up on the list of delights with gorgeous keys and mellifluous harmonies reigning supreme. There is a beautiful acoustic version on the deluxe album that I have hit repeat on many a time. Played live, the song was taken on a whole new journey. “Going Home” was layered with beats like heavy feet on a path trudging with hope yet determination towards the warmth and comfort of a familiar abode. The song had a fantastic new build in it with a big squelchy electro wail of solo midway through. The talented drummer - with one stick in his mouth - twokked out the crescendo with gusto and expertise as the electro landscape erupted in one monster of a solo. I imagined the solo soaring over us like a pterodactyl dinosaur – such was the intensity. My chest bones literally reverberated. I loved this new and exciting contrast to what is otherwise a gentle song of longing and hope.

A cover was next. “Oh yes, thank you God!” whispered Paul as Asgeir launched into Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box”. The 1993 song from Nirvana’s In Utero album is so utterly different that this cover might have been almost unrecognisable. Asgeir breathed a whole new being into the story of the song. I think perhaps around here I realized that many of the audience perhaps did not know the original. However, much like singer/guitarist Jose Gonzalez’s ability to take a song and give it a new and refreshing identity, Asgeir nailed this number and made it firmly his own.

“It’s great to be in Australia for the first time,” Asgeir told the audience. “It’s so much colder than we expected. We’ve only been here a few hours but we’ve already met lots of good people.” Obviously they landed in Melbourne first! The next song up was a new song called “Dreaming” which featured a tapestry of vocal harmonies including lots of euphonious “ahhhhhhs”. Asgeir’s voice again soared up like an angel. Looking around me I saw a lot of couples snuggling up to this new tune as Asgeir sung out, “Look up to the stars….” Beautiful powerful chords held the grounding of this new song - still allowing the spirit to be risen - yet leaving time and space for the heart of the song to cry out in the dark.

A beautiful classical inspired keyboard melody introduced us next into an Icelandic song. The effect was sweet – almost like a lullaby. Around here I wish I spoke Asgeir’s language. But then suddenly I realised that I did. The language of music and the haunting longing of this song captured and held all of the audience in his spell. It was easy to understand.

Another Icelandic version was next with the song “Harmony”. Golden light washed over the stage and matched the light, refreshing, uplifting sentiment and mood of the song. THIS song was more of one to sing to along to! There is a section when Asgeir and his band all start to sing “Ahhhh…. Ahhh..” I couldn’t help but sing along. After all, we all “ah” in the same language.

We were then introduced to the band - which apart from a drummer and other guitarist - also included the producer of the album (on synth and samples) and Asgeir’s own brother (on bass). The last song was the single “King And Cross”. It has got a lot of airplay on Triple J since its release and the crowd started to move along with much enthusiasm and sing along with the upbeat chorus.

An encore was absolutely obvious at this point. And for me I was just hoping that Asgeir would play my favourite song off the album. To my utter delight (and my weepy eyes) Asgeir played the acoustic version of my favourite song (also my favourite version – there are two on the album). “On That Day” is simply one of my favourite songs of the year and sits in my mental list of top songs to use as a healing balm when working through a broken heart. Personal info here: I don’t personally have a broken heart. But at my age, I have had quite a few and these experiences opens my ears and heart up to being moved considerably by music that speaks of this passage. The guitar, the voice, the melody and the utterly exquisite poetry of this song all come together to create something that floors me every time I listen. It unpacks what heart felt music is all about: Intimacy. Or as I see it: Into me See.

To pick the audience up after this show-stealing song the band rejoined to give us one more aural delight in the song “Torrent”. I couldn’t help but feel uplifted and living in the centre of something quite amazing just listening to this song: “Gods of iron clashing, wind in battle through the night. Tears will fall, and strength is needed to overcome….Torrents wash away everything…. Raindrops flowing all around.”

I just wanted to run out into the street afterwards yelling out, “Celebrate every moment of life people!!” Such was the joy that this incredible set of songs and their delivery brought to me. The musical high experienced from this event lasted with me for days after the event with each listen of the album. If you love reflective, poetic, uplifting yet soft and gentle music I implore you to seek Asgeir music out. He is sure to become a household name in this country.

1 comment:

  1. Great review Matt. I would love to see him someday too. Just got into him this week and I'm 57 years old!


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