Though I didn’t go to Housing Works Bookstore Café where Ólöf Arnalds shared the bill with Björk, her show at Sycamore two nights prior was probably the perfect way to experience this quirky Icelandic songstress (Ólöf, not Björk). Sycamore is a small bar in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, with a lovely backyard, a sensible layout, friendly people, and a tiny yet awesome performance space downstairs, which with its wide slabs of wooden benches looks like it was inspired by a sauna room, and which, as Ólöf demonstrated, is great for acoustic performances, even when unamplified; it’s now easily my new favorite venue (and we’re presenting a show there on the 26th, so mark your calendar and stay tuned). It’s part flower shop!
As soon as I entered this space, which can seat about 50, and saw Ólöf and her friend Davíð Þór Jónsson preparing for the show on the warmly lit stage, I knew it was going to be precious. I had seen them the night before at Union Hall, where the show had been ridiculously free-spirited. The two were still their quirky selves at Sycamore, but because of the preciousness of the space and the presence of many Icelandic friends, the mood was much more sober, and despite the continuation of forgotten lyrics and spontaneous conversations between the two, even the way they themselves approached their set was much more treasured. Worth mentioning is that Kristin Anna, who with Ólöf previously sang and played with in the Icelandic band Múm, was present.
Ólöf had played a song she’d written for Kristin at Union Hall, but this was going to be the first time Kristin herself was going to get to listen to it. Ólöf seemed genuinely frightened that she hadn’t had the chance to let her friend listen to it before playing it in front of people. With the hilarious chorus of “Don’t go in the crazy car”, it’s a tune that attempts to persuade Kristin, who has lived in New York since she left Múm, against leaving Iceland. There were tears and hugs afterward, but as the night got more festive, Kristin was invited on stage for a few songs, and Múm fans who weren’t there for it seriously ought to be jealous. For the encore, Kristin requested a song that was based on a “heartbreaking” Swedish poem, and when both Davíð and Kristin interjected with their own thoughts on how this presumably special piece should be treated, Ólöf said, “Davíð and Kristin, shut the fuck up. I’m telling the story here”. Kristin also shared the stage for a Johnny Cash song the two had sang, on the day Johnny Cash died, to 800 Japanese fans when they were sill in Múm. Video of the “don’t go in the crazy car” song is below.
Also present, and representing the creative community of that side of Brooklyn, was one of the twins from the National, not that I can tell which one it was.