Concert Review: Ólöf Arnalds at the Studio des Champs Elysées (Paris) Feb 28th 2011

Many Icelandic musicians hate being compared to their country’s more famous export – Bjork. But others enjoy and embrace them and use them to their advantage. The first enthralling single from Ólöf Arnalds‘ second studio album « Innundir skinni » prominently featuring Bjork, is appropriately entitled « Surrender ». Had it been the first song of her set, my entire opinion of the show would have been skewed. So even though I had to « suffer » through a bumpy ride, I got a better picture of the artist I had come to cherish from the comfort of my headphones in recent months.


© dpc – Le HibOO

The opening slot was offered to Cleo T (from bands Fitzcarraldo Sessions and 21 Love Hotel) as an acoustic duo where she’s accompanied by a guitarist while she plays a myriad of cute but insignificant instruments and sang her compositions. This wasn’t the most memorable part of the show so I might as well leave it at that.

Arnalds took to the stage of the Studio des Champs Elysées – a venue sandwiched between Ungaro and Valentino high end fashion boutiques – accompanied by two acoustic guitars and an armadillo ukulele. She didn’t choose an easy song to play as her first: a mistake often made by newcomers to the stage. This isn’t the case for Arnalds, a regular touring member of múm. It was then beyond me why such an amazing guitarist could stub her way through usually fluid and complex lines of fingerpicking. Being a nervous player myself, I was understanding and still found her captivating. The unusual and spellbinding melodies pluck at all the right melancholic strings you may have lurking around your murky soul. Between Irish folk ballads and her own compositions, songs about her sisters and covers of Gainsbourg (for Parisians), Arnalds took us on a tour of the past and current inspirations that fuel her passion for storytelling. And at times, you may even start to doze off because of their efficient lulling effect: thankfully you’re violently stirred awake by the folkloric vocal arabesques performed by Arnalds’ intermittently rising and falling cristal voice.

I wish those very prickling sensations had made up the whole show, but I must mention what exactly disturbed my musical reverie. As a perpetually disorganized person, I thought I would be the last annoyed by the lack of a set list. But asking a hungry audience if they wanted more until they’d been fed too much was unwise. Ironically, just the right amount of longing leaves you satiated at the end of a show. While I’m sure her intent was to generate spontaneity, the lack of organization weighed the show’s rhythm down. It gave some the impression of arrongance, others that of exhaustion, but to me it seemed like a bit of insecurity. There were times when it looked like the songs’ subjects were haunting her instead of us, causing distress in a voice at times when it was clearly meant to soar.

The strength and impressive quality of Arnalds’ songs are what save her show in the end. My friends and I left wondering what a perfect set from her would feel like. And somehow I don’t get the feeling that was her point. She got what she wanted from us in the end – even though it was only in brief snippets, we were all under a spell and we all liked it.


© dpc – Le HibOO

Thoughts?