Lørdag 12 august
It was the last day of Øyafestivalen, a day bookended by national treasures. In the evening, we would have Sigrid-den-Gense, but to start us off, to get us in the mood, came BigBang to Amfiet, with full attendance within a few minutes of their taking to the stage. They started with «Where the World Comes to End», backed by the Bislett Guttene boys’ choir, main man Øystein Greni singing «I don’t know what I’m doing», but it turned out that was far from the truth. Both the band and the festival organisers knew exactly what they were doing. It was a set which flowed nicely, remained understated in tone – there’s no pretence with these guys – but gave the crowd a lot of energy to return to the band. Despite only an hour’s slot, they somehow fit thirteen tracks spanning their varied career. It took the band a few numbers to get going, but after a brief instrumental jam, by the end of «Long Distance Man» they were well into their stride, comfortable, breathing easy. The performances were solid, well turned. They’re experienced and well-drilled musicians, and Nikolai Hængsle (bass) and Olaf Olsen (drums) both played and sang well throughout the set. Hængsle got a moment early on to show off his chops. Greni asked the crowd how many of them had been there when they played the first Øyafestival and said they were about to be taken back to 1999. «Wild bird» from «Electric Psalmbook» which followed went down a storm, with the crowd bouncing in time with Greni as he jumped up and down. To say they had the support of the crowd was literally true, as Greni later jumped into the crowd during one his many short guitar solos. He changed guitar nearly every song. This is music where feel, sound, sensibilities, and atmosphere matter more than hard musicianship. It was delivered well, with the right blend of energy, care, and ease. By the time we got to half way, with «To the Mountains» from the 2000 album «Clouds Rolling By», so many were singing and dancing along.
Their latest record, «Le Californie», came out in April. Only fitting that they had the chance to give these new songs some air. They might have been there as a warm-up act, but good music asks to be heard. We were treated to a good selection of the new material, including «She’s Allright», «Tune for Believers» and «A Different Kind of Lonely», which were well received. More of these came in the second half of the set, where the band were joined on the stage by two extra guitarists, a keyboard player, a percussionist and, significantly, a large horn section. Suddenly the tone of the music changed – it was more «big band» than «big bang». But it worked perfectly, because by then everyone had been coaxed into the party mood. The sound for the horns wasn’t quite right at first, but the technical staff caught up quickly and put them in their proper place in the mix. We had two guest vocalists, too. The finale was «Girl in Oslo», with Greni stepping back from the mic to make way for their guest’s fine, rich tenor voice. The number was given the full big-band treatment, and extended and extended, with the main motif from «Move On Up» seamlessly and mischievously dropped in, and which the horn section clearly relished. Everyone in the standing crowd was clapping by the end, all the way to the back. It had been the perfectly built-up, perfectly orchestrated introduction to a day’s music at a festival which, as Greni rightly said in one of the brief interludes, has always supported Norwegian music so well. The music finished literally with a big bang as Greni launched himself into the air one more time. No face left without a smile in time for the last day of this celebration of music. 4.5/6
Text: Alex Maines
Photography: Anne-Marie Forker