I love any chance to see an Icelandic act in London, everyone knows that much. Last Monday was especially exciting since Ólafur Arnalds is one of the very best Iceland has to offer (Found Songs was among my very favourite albums of 2009), and I've had to miss more than one of his previous London shows, so this was my first chance to see him outside of Reykjavik. It was also a delight to have a gig so close to home, most seem to head for the far-away, almost mythical, lands of (oh so cool?) Shoreditch & Hoxton.
The venue, Notting Hill's Tabernacle, is a fabulous looking building in the middle of a largely residential area just off Portobello Road. Even an hour before show time, when I arrived, the queue to get upstairs and into the venue was snaking right around the ground floor bar. I guess this was to try to grab the best of (or as it turned out all of) the unreserved seating. I'm not great with queues so we grabbed a table and got stuck into a bit of red wine and a table-full of excellent burgers. I could tell we weren't missing much, since the band were nearby tucking into noodles and beer.
The show began almost dead on 8:30, although hilariously having been informed downstairs that it would begin at 8:20 the audience had been in hushed anticipation for 10 minutes before Óli and the gang arrived on stage. I've never known gig politeness reaching such heights. The performance was exceptional, ranging across all his albums and including a couple of new and unreleased pieces. It lasted about 90 minutes - twice as long as either of the Airwaves shows that I've seen. The stage set was typically sparse, and in the main exceptionally dark (which explains why I haven't posted any photos of my own, and stole that great photo from this site) although there was some excellent strobing when the electronic beats were to the fore. My personal highlights were the exceptional versions of 3055, Fok and Ljósið ("a song about bathtubs") after a tiny false start. At times the sparse but threatening sounds of the beats reminded me a little of Massive Attack's finest instrumentation. The only negatives were to do with the venue itself which was horribly hot and with a very creaky floor - not great for such a hushed atmosphere.
Ólafur Arnalds in London was a complete pleasure. the very good news is that he's coming back very soon, on July 19th, to the larger and air conditioned Queen Elizabeth Hall on London's south bank. I suggest you follow this link and sort yourself out with tickets.