KEXP at Iceland Airwaves 2014, Day 1: Mugison

Iceland Airwaves
Isaac Kaplan-Woolner
photos by Jim Bennett

This first day of live broadcasting from Iceland Airwaves ended with a bang. Kex Hostel was packed to the gills with eager fans of quintessential Icelandic singer songwriter Mugison (full name Örn Elías Guðmundsson). Raised in the small village of Isafjordur and now living in another tiny village, Súðavík, he is the son of singer Muggi (Muggur). Mugison holds a popular free music festival in the western countryside of the island each summer. He's had a slew of popular albums and soundtracks over the years, and his latest album of Icelandic language folk songs, Haglél, is hugely popular in his home country.

Perched on a tall trunk in the Kex Hostel stage so the capacity crowd could see him, Mugison was clearly at ease and in his element. The excited buzz in the room was palpable. "I'm going to start with a nearly brand new song, "Tipsy King", or just "Tipsy", I'm not sure," said Guðmundsson, launching into a beautifully plaintive song on missing old friends. Plucked on an electric acoustic guitar, Mugison's set straddled folk, blues, and rock, all played with plenty of heart. "I'm a little tipsy, I'm a little broken, I'm a little haunted tonight," he sang. The guitar had some nice overdrive to rock out louder parts, but would recede to a tender quietness when strummed gently. The second song, "Þjóðarsálin", was all in Icelandic. But as Guðmundsson explained, "it's a nice kind of blues," and very accessible to American ears. He attempted to teach the English speaking men in the room the traditional family reunion phrase "ég er blóð" (I am blood), which the crowd was instructed to growl along in the manliest fashion. This is a very popular tune here in Iceland, and his voice does an amazing heavy metal/Tom Waits sort of scream on the refrain.For a one man solo act, Mugison was totally engaging: warm, funny, earnest, and captivating. Plus he played a mean acoustic blues with an electric rock edge. The third song, "To the Bone", he introduced as, "a sort of a love song." But this is not an easy, happy love. It is paranoid and pinched with longing and fear. This is a broken hearted kind of love. "Love's gonna save me," he sang. But one is left to wonder if it truly will. Yet even in these painful songs, there is a sort of bittersweet joy in the unexpected curves life can throw at you. After this tune Mugison announced he had two songs left, "in case you are wondering when to go to the bar." The crowd laughed, but certainly would have stayed for many more songs than that.

The fourth song was another new one, "Who'd I Be Holding Tight", which had a somewhat sweeter, less bluesy feel. Bouncing, yet also simultaneously aching. Mugison managed to dance in place a bit, even atop his precarious perch. He certainly looked like he was having fun up there, and the crowd was right there with him. He finished out the stellar set with his hit 2004 Icelandic Music Awards Song of the Year "Murr Murr", and the crowd roared as he strummed its opening strains. This blues rocker featured intricate hammer-ons and harmonics, and an infectious groove. Mugison had to leap down from the trunk to change his pedal settings and swig his beer, but he never faltered. He pulled a slide out of his pocket for a wildly strummed finale. And with that, an incredible show came to a close, to the crowd's thunderous applause.

We hope you enjoyed all of today's shows live from Iceland Airwaves, listening on 90.3FM in Seattle, or streaming audio and video at Join us tomorrow as we bring you another full day of incredible live music from the land of fire and ice. We'll have Árstíðír, Júníus Meyvant, Mammút, FM Belfast, and Hermigervill starting at 6AM PST. More info on our live broadcast can be found here.

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