It may seem all too convenient for a foreign guy in Iceland such as myself to come to these parts and laud everyone and everything within the culture as amazing, devoid of interpersonal context, social standing and general perception, but on this occasion I genuinely feel it to do just that, as Brother Grass, in my opinion has one of the best chances of success outside of Iceland, and that it’s just a matter of time, and their own willing determination, before they as a band or individually get noticed. It’s shockingly apparent.
In a way, the story begins in 2011, when I first started interning at Grapevine. At that time, I frequented the now defunct Bakkus, which has since been replaced by the equally impressive Hurrá. Sitting in there was one Ms. Soffía Björg, who told me about her band, Brother Grass. I suggested that I review one of their shows, but as luck would have it I never got around to it, that is until today.
At the invitation of the band, I checked out their Christmas show at Café Rosenberg this past Sunday. I generally knew what to expect, as I had seen this performance on the internet before: http://vimeo.com/33939054, but as I’m an unlikely person to go for folk, I didn’t think I’d attend one of their shows. I mean, I’ve been listening to Death Grips, Frank Zappa, GusGus and Scott Walker all week. I think maybe that’s why I went to this show, to get out of my comfort zone… and I tell you, out of it I got. Honestly, I didn’t think they would be as good as they were, which is why I felt compelled to write this. Here are my notes from their two-set show:
“Last one here. The doorman knew me by name because I’m the only one that’s late. First glance. It’s astonishing how much time has clearly gone into the visual presentation of this band. A clearly full house. I can get a drink or take a taxi home. The drink won. I guess you could call it a four part harmony. Here I am thinking ad infinitum about good, complex music, and this band kicks that ideas ass with a simple-yet-effective simplicity of style. It’s the little niceties which makes it lovely. It’s funny, light music. I mean, everything is organized, everything. I had the pleasure of meeting the drummer once at Vitabar. I love that he’s using mallets. The Christmas aesthetic in this venue is clear. The drink won again. A stout. There is something quintessentially Icelandic about this band…not in some Björk, Sigur Rós sense, this stuff clearly appeals to everyone. The audience clearly reflects this. It’s the upbeat numbers which keep the people interested. Clapping. Me and my grandmother. Cheers grandma. No joke, this place is almost 100% packed. The guitarist never fails to wow. I just want his guitar tone so badly. It’s a beautiful jazz hollowbody. It’s amazing what a band can accomplish by simply standing there are emoting. To be honest, this band is like an Icelandic cultural institution it seems. Since I first arrived here in 2011, and hitherto, apparently this band has been a mainstay on the scene. Soffía’s voice is quite exceptional, and she looks exceptional, too. This audience isn’t guzzling away. They are staring intently. The gentle sways of the band give the chorus line a near ripple effect, like buoys in the ocean current. In keep with these tidal cascades, the increases in volume surge thanks to the backing band. Their performance was nearly flawless. Their self awareness as musicians distance them from pretension. By no means am I watching Rick Wakeman man a colossal Moog above a glorious ice capade, castles, horses, wizards and all. Is that a wash board and a box drum? A box drum drenched in reverb, no less. Where’s leadbelly? Even the audience seems appropriately dressed for this. Flappers, romantics, the wistful and the longing, et al. I personally like darker music, but perhaps I’m the minority. I prefer their epic numbers, but understand why they ought to sprinkle some sugar, too. A rainbow has numerous hues and tones, after all. I’m lost at sea and the moment. One track is almost metal like. Skalmöld would probably cover this. Bow that bass, man! Can anyone deny the appropriateness of Rosenberg for this music? This is a band you should take a date to see. You may accuse my reporting as being excessively complementary, but say that to a band which truly has every corner of event dynamics covered. It’s the little things to notice – like the guitarist playing a nice country ditty while the girls chat with the audience. It’s a mark of professionalism. Each member of this group seems appropriate for the band. When they are being silly, they are having fun, and in turn, so are we. “Happy Fucking Christmas”…Even I laughed. Imagine getting off from work, tired, no exhausted. Brother Grass is the band I’d want to hear to keep me in high spirits. The diversity of the crowd attests to their appeal. Is that a RHODES? We all love that cool, bluish vibrato, don’t we? It’s funny to see the look of annoyance on the crowd’s faces when a noise disrupts their merriment. There’s nothing really fake about these people on stage. I can envisage this band, doing this stuff back in say, 1947. Fucking Elvis cover yeah! The guitarist wrestles that minor pentatonic, doesn’t he? Maybe a show like this makes you a better person, I don’t know. Not a face I recognized in the crowd. A BOWED SAW! Not too shabby. They trade harmonies gracefully. Do you know how hard it is to bow a saw on key? My word, it’s like trying to fret a theremin without the aid of limbs. Nicely done. Nicely done. On a non-hipster note, seeing senior citizens sway to House Of The Rising Sun was a personal highlight for me. Get their attention, and you have to command at least some respect, don’t you think? By the way I love Rosenberg’s facilities. What a nice, polite audience.”
“That Hildur can really sing. A golden petite she is. The cymbal grind, brilliant. There is this surreal feeling of perfection that this band exudes. This track reminds me so greatly of Nick Drake. Everyone laughs with them even when they make a mistake. Spirituals, go tell it on the mountain. They would probably be successful anywhere. Their act is totally in harmony with what mainstream Icelandic society favors, and that knowledge – that knowledge of what is palatable in a given culture, is precious. Perhaps another given is that the band looks great, and therefore an inherent tastefulness might be apparent. I fee like I’m in a movie about a band, that’s how well this is choreographed. Even the few mistakes they made seem scripted. They handle the audience carefully. I tried closing my eyes for a while. Perhaps an album of Lullabyes would work well for them. I love that phone. Sandra, can I have one too? Astonishing. This song reminds me of Christmas at home. Elvis all the way. Christ, I think I’m going to cry. My mom wants me home very much, so that triggered quite the emotional chord. Brilliant, gutting performance, fender. Their more…longing? slower paced tracks I’m a real softy for. They have the timing between songs down to a science. Have they ever considered touring abroad? They would surely draw a crowd. I love the whammy guitar. I can very much et exhausted after a performance like this. It really does take a lot of you. Some members of the audience are tearing, no bullshit. Suddenly I feel embraced, a sense of belonging, like all of the world’s sadness for this one solitary moment has dissapated into a narrow, dimming fade. was reminded of Christmas with my mom watching the Honeymooner’s Christmas Special yearly. That’s how you know a performance works. It touches you in a tender spot. I believe Santa Claus is Coming To Town followed. Got to love Love for the soundman. They mae the miracles come true. Silent Night. some audience members were mouthing the words, no joe. The subtlety of sounds really works. Hildur knows exactly where to position her chimes next to the mic. It’s just that nuance which speaks to their degree of professionalism. They are a very humble, distinguished act, one I believe must be hard to follow, but pleasant to do so. The forgotten part of the performance is always the attitude of the crowd as they depart. I believe on this occasion the crowd was reassured of the bands’ skill, rarity and overall value. Under Rosenberg’s candlelight Brother Grass sold an experience, and it is one that I believe we have all purchased in plentiful quantity. My favorite thing to do is to show a band I like my review after the gig. It’s the least one can do to return the favor of making one feel good and at home.”
With that all said, after the gig I thought to myself that there are a number of reasons why I feel they will go places. For starters, they sound great. They all look like they can be movie stars, and they are young, original, and very professional. If Iceland’s cultural community is capable of pushing a band, guys, let’s make it this one. I’m not a betting man, but in my opinion, however marginal it may be, once they start releasing their own material and tour, it’s a sure thing they’ll do well, and who doesn’t want to be a part of that?