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Before I knew it, the last day of Iceland Airwaves was upon me, one last chance to catch some of the bands I might have missed earlier and hear someone new. It was also the day of the big final show with The Flaming Lips and The War On Drugs that I was rather excited about. After five days of awesomeness I’d have to return to real life and my day job, but first I decided to enjoy the hell out of this last day. When I finally reached my temporary home for a few short hours of sleep before heading to the airport, I had learned that some bands really deserve all the praise they get and sometimes the best things and the best people happen to you on the last day.
On day five The Flaming Lips left me struggling for words to describe their awesomeness, while The Walking Who left me struggling with my emotions, The War On Drugs played a solid show, Bellstop took me by surprise, Marius Ziska sang me some moving stories and Lucianblomkamp provided lovely background music for a late lunch.
VENUE: KEX HOSTEL
Once again I found myself at Kex Hostel where things had quieted down a bit since Sunday’s concert were not broadcasted. When I arrived, it was still crowded and I got to hear the remaining Lucianblomkamp’s set. I never laid eyes on the Australian, but I liked what I heard. From the samples I had heard on Soundcloud I had expected a more Electronic sound and found it surprisingly Pop. It was very listenable music.
I had heard good things about The Walking Who, but was still taken by surprise when I realized how good they really were. The Australians were so full of energy and so much fun to watch that I wanted to listen to them for hours. Their sound made me think of The Doors, but mixed with something else, something that was their very own. I wasn’t prepared for being drawn to them so much, I was much less prepared for the emotional rollercoaster they put me on. For reasons I cannot explain they spoke to me on an emotional level so much it made me cry. Apart from their own cool tunes, they deliver a stunning rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”. It was awesome!
Everything looked quiet at Dillon when I walked in, until I climbed the stairs to the second floor bar and had to remain there at first, because the small room was too packed to walk in. The music I heard was lovely though – guitars and two singing voices. A look at the schedule above the bar told me I was listening to Bellstop. Soon I understood why so many had gathered to hear them. They describe their music as Folk & Roll and it fits them perfectly. They told stories, funny and serious about events in their lives, some with words and many in their songs. After the concert I instantly put them on my list of bands to see again.
Next up was Faroese singer/songwriter Marius Ziska once again. Finally I could move forward and see the stage, but it was still too dark to take any pictures. It was lovely to hear his full set of stories in English and Faroese that made me smile as well as cry. The music underlined these stories nicely, his voice conveying many emotions. In-between, he was joking with his band and the audience, providing some comic relief. It was the perfect music for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
VENUE: VODAFONE HALL
The big final show of the festival took place at Vodafone Hall just outside the city center, with two Alternative Rock bands from the US closing the festival. While I´d heard The War On Drugs before, The Flaming Lips are one of those bands that have never been on my radar, even though I knew them by name and heard good things about their live shows. I took Airwaves as the perfect opportunity to check them out. Tickets for the show could be bought independently of the festival pass or - for the more adventurous types - be acquired by waiting in line on Friday morning, hoping to get one of the 2000 that were generally distributed for wristband holders. On the evening of the show the doors opened late, but everything else went smoothly and the venue was well filled, but not packed to an uncomfortable level. People had more than enough room to move and dance if they wanted to.
Back in June I had liked but not loved The War On Drugs and was surprised when they were much better and more powerful than I remembered. The sound at the venue was really good and this was one oft the few place where the lights were nothing to complain about either. The band rocked – no frills or big effects needed, just straightforward music, skillfully played. I loved the songs and their sound, even danced a little bit after my duties as a photographer were done. They were in a great mood, enjoying the festival and making the best of their time on stage. The audience cheered them on and made them feel comfortable. Singer Adam Granduciel didn’t talk all that much, but elicited many cheers when he spoke about The Flaming Lips and joked they would shoot him out of a cannon later. The band gave us all they had, playing a solid set that didn’t leave much to wish for. They were a great warm up for what was to come.
Finally, after much preparation, The Flaming Lips took the stage and for the next two hours I wished I had a pause button or the possibility to rewind just to make sure I had really seen, heard, taken in everything that was going on. From the first shower of confetti coming from two cannons by the side of the stage to the final one at the very end, it was a gigantic flurry of lights, colors, sound, costumes, balloons, blow up dolls and other effects, not to mention the amazing music. The audience was partying from the front row to the last and the men on stage, especially singer Wayne Coyne, were the ringleaders, urging them on. At the end, he thanked everyone for “being such happy freaks!“
I’m not entirely sure I can find enough superlatives in my vocabulary to truly describe the awesomeness of their performance. A fellow photographer and first-timer like me I talked to afterwards said, she had never seen any band putting so much effort into making a show, and I can only add they made it a feast for eyes and ears. Yet it wasn’t only about showing off props and effects it was about audience participation. They didn’t want to leave people stunned into silence, they wanted them to scream, dance, interact and party with them. From huge balloons thrown back and forth to the crowd to the often heard “come on motherfuckers“ they had everyone’s attention eventually.
The band was dressed up with costumes and colorful wigs, there was even some make-up to be seen, and Coyne wore long strands of tinsel on his sleeves that made playing the guitar a bit tricky. Gigantic blow up dolls in the shape of sun, stars, aliens, butterflies and even Santa Clause populated the stage providing something to lean on or dance with. Lights in all colors of the rainbow flickered on the screen behind the band, and when Coyne held up a huge set of balloon letters that read “Fuck yeah Iceland“, everyone in the room was cheering. The balloon letters were passed back and forth between the audience and the stage several times and many of the people who got to hold them on the way looked so happy and proud.
The songs? They were a good mix of songs from different albums with a few covers thrown in from their biggest radio hit “She Don’t Use Jelly” to the popular “Do You Realize???” and so much in-between. The music was moving, soft and strong, often happy and overall just as huge as the props used. The whole package of sights and sounds simply blew me away, and when I thought it could not get any more fun and interesting, Coyne stepped into a life size balloon and walked the crowd. WOW! The show ended with an amazing rendition the Beatles’ “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” before the band finally left the stage. “Stunning” does not even begin to describe what it felt like, “mind-blowing” comes closer, but still doesn’t cut it. Let’s just say it was quite a trip I was happy to have been a part of.
On the way out I heard some people chatting excitedly, while others were simply left speechless. They gathered their jackets, their wits and some souvenirs like a handful of confetti or one of the balloon letters from earlier. Fuck yeah Flaming Lips! Fuck yeah Iceland! Fuck yeah Airwaves! I could not have imagined a better ending to this festival and floated on happy clouds all the way home that night.
“WOW!“ pretty much sums it up for this last festival day that treated me to some of the best acts of the week. The Flaming Lips alone deserve 10 reindeers and then some, yet overall the score comes to 9.5. I doubt it gets much better than this. Not only was this festival extremely well organized and had amazing bands to offer, all the staff was exceptionally nice too. No matter where I went, I always felt welcome. Kudos to the organizers and staff for this!
At the start of this report I mused about what it felt like to live and breathe the festival’s air and still, roughly a week later, I feel the need to elaborate on that a little bit. I’m sure each visitor enjoyed Iceland Airwaves in their very own way and that’s what it’s all about - making the most of it.
For me personally, it came down to this:
- stumbling home at two in the morning with a huge smile on my face and too wound up to sleep
- being just a tad sad about missing the gig of my friend’s Metal band even though Metal was never my thing
- sweating my butt off at the most crowded venues only to freeze as soon as I left
- dancing with pure joy to Electro Pop, even though I really dislike Electro
- sharing cake in the street with random strangers
- falling in love with a new band so hard I wish I could have attended all of their (13!) gigs
- waking up too tired to think straight and still looking forward to the day ahead
- getting so emotional I cried at songs in languages I don’t even understand
And last but not least: having collected so many memories it feels impossible to get them in order.
Many make the trek to Iceland every year or, if they are lucky enough to live there, attend every year and now I finally understand why. Next year I won’t be able to make it, but I certainly have plans to return as soon as possible. Until then it’s goodbye Iceland Airwaves and thank you so much!