Somewhere between getting out of paying 100 Euro in baggage overages to Ryan Air for the second time, and spying my first Viking-looking Norwegian plane mate, I got little-girl-on-Christmas-morning excited. Unfortunately, when you travel alone, there isn’t anyone to share your excitement with….and I had banned myself from my iPhone for the most part.
When I landed in Rygge and boarded a bus to Oslo, I was disoriented to a point unlike anything I’d experienced before. First was the realization that this is probably the farthest from home I’d ever been, not to mention I was there alone. I was seeing a language written everywhere that I couldn’t even understand simple words- yes, no, exit, toilet, thank you, goodbye….nothing. The money system is unlike anything I’d dealt with before; 200 Krones is about $36, and math is not my strong point. And from what I could tell everything cost a minimum of 200 Krones….I’d entered one of the most expensive places on the planet. But this guy on my plane and now on my bus looked like a model…or a vampire…either way I’m pretty sure he wasn’t real and I could not. stop. staring.
My main thing about my first couple of hours in Norway was the weather: it welcomed me with 30F degrees and rain when I had just come from sunny 70s and even 80s in Italy. I was prepared, which meant I slowly transitioned into looking like a frozen grey marshmallow.
Of course I got lost on the way to the hotel, but was rewarded with it’s mod/minimalist style; like living in an IKEA pod. I spent all of 5 minutes in there before I ventured out into the cold rain to have a look around, eventually making my way to tonight’s show.
I noticed a cool looking place called Revolver on my way to the hotel that I went back to for a bite to eat. I open the door of the bar and am immediately face to face with a metal Norwegian dude with a guitar that looks a lot like Toki Wartooth. I’m sure my grin made me look mad. I ordered a salad from the waitress who’s English was better than mine and ate the rather sad thing while enjoying a local beer. Norway: not known for salad.
I round the corner and encounter my first church, and snap a photo, which pretty much encapsulates everything I thought of Norway before I got there and everything it turned out to be, just x 100:
After meandering around, getting lost, then found, and realizing that Oslo is really quite small; I found myself in a little park walking into a place called Parkteatret. It was quite early since I bought a ticket at the door, and it was still very light outside (though it’s never really bright in Norway…hard to explain). I walked inside and decided to stand on the first tier by the soundboard. The venue was great; it was well laid out over two tiers with places to set drinks and hook coats/purses everywhere, as well as several bars set up. All the signs used a nice art deco font and the curtains were a pretty burgundy. I was soon to find out that the sound was also incredible. The sound guy was sniffling and drinking tea the entire night- that’s one thing I didn’t need translated, and remembered to use my Purell OCD-style.
I would quickly find out that, while Norwegian people are nice and friendly, they aren’t the type to talk to strangers. That’s why everyone I met over the course of my week in Norway was not from there. Tonight my company would be a Swedish man, who quickly bestowed a lot of knowledge upon me about the country, and was the first of many to ask, “Why Norway?”. I was starting to feel really alien.
When Spindrift came on stage, I waited for that warm sensation of familiarity to wash over me. It never did. While I had seen Spindrift long ago, I had forgotten that they dress the part to go along with their spaghetti western style music. Now, Spindrift may be from California, and as a Texan we like to differentiate our brand of Western from theirs….but once you’re in Norway, that all goes out the window. Suddenly, I was standing in a crowd of people from a foreign land watching something stereotypically representative of my culture being played out on stage. It was a very weird sensation. By now the venue was full, and the audience watched as if it were an opera before them (except for the drunk ones; I’ll get to that in the next piece). The fuzzy twangs and the lackadaisical tings of the tambourine filled the room, and the vocalist thanks the crowd and tells us, ‘it’s our first time here’. “ME TOO!” I feel like shouting, but refrain in lieu of informing the guys in front of me who the band is when I’m asked. I love Spindrift’s music….but it was bizarre how different it sounded in this context for me. This is when I get really nerdy on you; it’s like when I constructed psychological experiments in college, and I was dealing with constants and variables….in Germany I saw German bands in their homeland; here I saw an American band in a foreign land. The experience couldn’t be more different.
Black Mountain were greeted with a lot of fanfare, but I was taken aback when someone actually had the audacity to shout “FREEBIRD!!!”, to which a band member responded, ‘Really? What year is this?” There’s proof that ‘that guy’ is all over the world. The female vocalist- the last to walk out on stage- was emitting bad vibes from the beginning. A song or two in she made a fuss about only being able to hear blackness and walked offstage….I thought she might not come back, but they seemed to work it out and things proceeded as planned. As I said, the sound was amazing in that place, and with a band like this it made all the difference. I just couldn’t shake the feeling of being disoriented; just as I’d get into the groove, I’d hear someone speak and wake up with a start, like ‘Where am I? Whoa…I’m in Norway….listening to psych rock…’ While the crowd was supremely mellow, there were two things that stuck out: one was the lady in the very front who enthusiastically clapped in front of the band members nonstop as if she were conducting them in some way. Second were two younger girls slutty dancing together….to a psych rock band. More proof that ‘that girl’ is EVERYWHERE! The setlist on the soundboard left for no surprises, even though ‘The Hair Song’ wasn’t listed, it was an expected and delivered encore.
As I left this show I realized that seeing shows abroad was less about the music for me than when I go to shows at home. The music became background noise to my trying to understand what people like me- concertgoers- in other parts of the world are like. And by virtue of that, trying a new way of understanding myself.