Ásgeir Trausti Einarsson —Ásgeir to fans of his contemplative Icelandic songs— is a cool customer with an ability to hit the high notes. Yes, he’s a bit of a geyser. Such is his unassuming coolness that as he takes the stage of National Sawdust the room is in quizzical silence. Is this baseball-capped, denim-shirted figure the source of the electronic-inflected balladry that has enchanted millions worldwide?
The opening chord progression of ‘On That Day’ and his distinctive falsetto vocals answer the lingering question as to the identity of the man with the guitar. Joined shortly by guitarist and singer Julius Robertsson, the interplay between the two lends a more intricate folkyness to the sound. The early part of the set feels perfect for the containted space — the seated, attentive audience hanging on every lyric (whether English or Icelandic). In fact, Ásgeir makes a point of saying that some of these songs will be performed in their original Icelandic forms rather than the English translations which aided the export of his music to a broader market earlier in his career.
Guðmundur Kristinn ‘Kiddi’ Jónsson steps behind the Moog at the back of the stage signalling a change of pace. Kiddi has been producing Ásgeir’s work since the early days and his presence gives the overall performance more weight. Basslines, beats and electronics become more prominent and we’re treated to new songs like ‘Pictures’ which he tells us will be on a new album due in Autumn 2019. The sound system of National Sawdust is certainly getting a workout with the ceiling-hung speakers putting in a tougher shift than normal. There’s a strange contrast between the screw-rattling numbers that wouldn’t be out of place at an outdoor music festival and the almost-silent breaks between songs but Ásgeir’s attraction is perhaps this very duality: big songs from a quiet man.
If streaming services and ‘discovery’ platforms have given us the chance to encounter music from around the world then seeing artists like Ásgeir live fills in some more of the detail that would otherwise be missing. It’s also a real pleasure to hear an artist return songs to their mother-tongue, the way they were written and intended. Icelandic is such a poetic language and when deployed with this deft musicality there is plenty of meaning even if the words aren’t immediately familiar. Top geyser.