Ásgeir // Gorilla, Manchester // 21.05.17
Two weeks after Icelandic singer/songwriter Ásgeir released his synthy sophomore album Afterglow, I managed to catch one of only three gigs he played in the UK on his European spring tour. Entering under a discrete side door under a railway arch, I made my way into Manchester’s industrial-chic venue Gorilla as the first of the two support acts started playing. Fellow Icelandic songwriter Axel Flóvent drew in the crowd as his soft, Nordic voice echoed the elegiac tones of Ásgeir’s first album In the Silence, an album which has been estimated that 10% of his home population own. Flóvent’s whispering acoustics were then beaten out by blasts of pulsating bass from Tusks, the project of London-based producer Emily Underhill. With aggressive reverberated guitar and dark vocals, Tusks whet the crowd’s appetite for the upcoming electronic babble of Ásgeir’s new sound.
After 40 minutes of impatient shuffling and sighing whilst the crew checked the vast quantity of electronics, Ásgeir and his band emerged. ‘Here Comes The Wave In’ began with melodic falsetto and then crashed like its titular wave into a plunging drum-filled chorus. Stepping back from his new synth-laden style, Ásgeir then moved to a piano and played a raw acoustic version of the album’s halfway point, ‘Nothing’. After the melancholic solo performance, the band returned to their positions as Ásgeir whispered a nervous “thank you” to the silenced crowd. The distinctive piano intro of Afterglow’s title track began, and the silence turned into a sea of noise. Written on his old, out of tune piano in his home town, ‘Afterglow’ was then lyrically edited by Ásgeir’s father, acclaimed poet Einar Georg Einarsson. Filtered through the family once more, the track was then translated into English by his older brother and band member Thorsteinn. The song progressed into warm, lyrical reverie, reminiscent of In the Silence, whilst equally thoughtful electronic composition showed Afterglow’s distinctive style. ‘I Know You Know’ boasted Ásgeir’s new alt-folk sound as the band concocted a Bon Iver-esque blend of electronica whilst maintaining the focus on Ásgeir’s natural lyrics about rivers, streams, and the album’s ever-present theme of “a light that won’t leave me”.
The crowd were then treated with two of the most popular singles from In the Silence. This included ‘Going Home’ that finished with a twist, as synths and strobes heightened the second half into an unexpected electronic crescendo. The set ended with 2013 single ‘Torrent’, carrying the catchy melodies that first brought attention to Ásgeir’s music. He then modestly left the stage, quietly thanking the crowd. Ásgeir’s music has morphed from warm acoustic sounds to chilling electric vibes, yet by maintaining a focus on his voice and poetic lyrics, still makes the room glow from start to finish.