Quiet and Peace with ÓLAFUR ARNALDS live in Vancouver

Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom is not a seated venue. But it was on January 28th, the night of not one but two live shows in a single night. After all, you’d want to sit down for an Ólafur Arnalds performance (unless it was for his dancey duo side-hustle, Kiasmos). You’d want to get comfortable for Iceland – and possibly the world’s – foremost ambient multi-instrumentalist/composer/producer/french-fry-restaurant-co-owner,  and let the waves wash over you.

First, we were warned. Photographers were advised that there were to be no camera clicks. Get ye to the back of the room, noisy clicker! There was to be no food or bar service during the shows, either. Get ye your beer early, noisy clinker! Get all your coughs and fidgeting out now, folks. Prepare for quiet, and peace, too.

Indeed, in the intro, you could hear a door hinge. After that, though, Arnalds stood up, all smiles and socked feet, welcomed the room, and for “Àrbakkinn” asked us to sing a single note which he recorded as a background loop. “Brot” and “Only the Winds” drifted into a dream space, as he performed on piano and synth, flanked by three violinists, a cellist and a drummer. “Re:member” swelled to bubble like the springtime, “Verses” swayed into Chopin and a tapestry of strings, and “Saman”- among my favourite of Arnalds’ songs, a muted piano piece in which you can hear the piano pins and pedals move – felt otherwordly. In “3326”, when his lead violinist took over to bow what seemed like an epic tale, hairs stood up on my arm. I worried they might be too loud.

There’s something mystical, cinematic and emotional about much of music that Arnalds creates. If you’ve heard his soundtracks for UK crime series Broadchurch, you’ll know what I’m talking about It’s moody and melancholic in parts, and expansive and hopeful in others. “Ekki Hugsa” unfurled at a running speed, “Nyepi” slowed in contemplation and “Near Light” was lifted by a choppy breakbeat. With such diversity, it felt like we were being surrounded by…nature. drifted off to think about the Icelandic countryside. Landscapes and lava-sand beaches. Wind and crisp air. I breathed in, and out rolled a few tears.

In the first set’s final moments (“Whose idea was it to do two shows in one night? That’s crazy” the performer joked), the endearing Arnalds told a story about his grandmother, and how she’d often bribe him with cookies to come over, which he would, and she’d play him Chopin…”so much until I liked it.” When she died, he said, he wrote her a song “to send her on her way”, “Lag Fyrir Ömmu” (Song for Grandma). Then he sat down at his open-pannelled upright and performed it, swathed in dark and shadow, alone on the stage. Strings snuck in from what seemed like backstage. Out rolled more tears.

And then it was over, and the room, together, exhaled. \m/

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