John Grant, Rozi Plain and more – five standouts from Iceland Airwaves

Reykyavík hosted its annual celebration of all things musical last weekend, in venues from barber’s shops to concert halls. But what were the highlights?

John Grant

Colorado-raised-Reykjavík-transplant John Grant performed two stunning shows with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra this weekend, but the real gem was the secret gig he played in his barber’s shop: the crowd drank rum-spiked hot chocolate and children peered through the banisters as Grant, backed only by a double bass and an acoustic guitar, stood on the stairs to sing a short, lusty set to us all below. The undoubted highlight was GMF, and when the fire alarm began to bleat mid-song, Grant simply lifted his voice and encouraged us all to sing along. It felt really quite magical.


At Hurra on Friday night, this Toronto-based four-piece played a magnificent set – melodic, brazenly catchy pop songs that have been garbled and twisted and punked up to the gills. Frontwoman Jasmyn Burke is really quite something: clambering along the front of the tiny stage, demanding the crowd dance along to the brilliantly thrusting Motorcycle, her vocals have a high, flat sweetness – as if Kimya Dawson met Siouxsie Sioux. Their debut EP was produced by Dave Newfeld and Leon Taheny, who between them have worked with Broken Social Scene, Super Furry Animals, Fucked Up and Owen Pallett, all of which seem musical touchstones for their idiosyncratic sound.

Meilyr Jones

The crowd at Jones’s show at Tjarnarbíó began his set sitting at the back of the room, but by its close they had flocked to the front – cheering, grinning and heckling their admiration. Jones is the most charismatic of performers, and appeared galvanised by his recent tour supporting Richard Hawley, charming the room with anecdotes and asides, at one point jumping down into the crowd and making like some kind of Pentecostal faith healer. But it’s a charisma matched by the music – ambitious, intelligent, sublimely sung tunes that bring together Don Juan, sculpture and bongo solos, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.

Andy Shauf

Shauf is a singer-songwriter from Regina, Canada, who released his second album, The Bearer of Bad News, at the start of this year. His performance at Harpa was one of my favourite shows of the weekend – his voice carries shades of Elliott Smith, without ever drifting into pastiche, and his songs run like short stories – colourful, precisely-told and compelling.

Rozi Plain

Rozi Plain played three shows over the course of the weekend – a main event at Harpa, as well as a couple of off-venue sets at Sky Bar and Kaffibarinn. Each seemed to find its own mood and character, and each succeeded in showing Plain’s very particular talents: the extraordinary contours of her voice, the irresistible whirls of her songs, and a band made up of a remarkably gifted bunch of musicians.


Laura Barton

The GuardianTramp

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