The bill read like an evening at Glastonbury or the Coachella Music Festival: Feist, KT Tunstall, Jarvis Cocker, Martha Wainwright, Vanessa Carlton, and Robyn Hitchcock. But the venue for this all-star lineup’s first (and possibly last) gig last week couldn’t have been farther off indie-rock hipsters’ radar: the bar at the Hotel Uummannaq in northwest Greenland, a snowy Arctic town boasting a harbor strewn with icebergs and a sky streaked with the Northern Lights.
Brought together by Cape Farewell, a UK-based organization that has hosted seven Arctic Circle sea voyages in eight years in the name of climate change awareness and research, the rockers are currently on a nine-day expedition aboard a Russian vessel. Their reward for bunking in closet-sized cabins and heeding early-morning wake-up calls? Treks to the top of snow-covered peaks, up-close views of retreating glaciers—and, of course, the opportunity to play with their acclaimed peers.
Wainwright opened the show, followed by indie darling Feist. Wearing an Inuit shawl of colored beads, the latter gamely attempted a few Greenlandic folk tunes before cutting her set short, saying she was feeling intimidated about following her fellow Canadian. Feist was nearly always on stage, however, whether adjusting the sound for whomever was at the mic or joining Wainwright on backing vocals when Cocker took center stage (see photo) to cover Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale.” (An interesting choice, considering Lou Reed’s longtime partner, Laurie Anderson, also a member of the Cape Farewell expedition, was in the audience.)
Elder statesman Hitchcock, who organized the rockers’ only rehearsal in the vessel’s lounge hours before the show, was “the glue between us all,” Carlton told the crowd. But Carlton saw the evening as more than a chance to perform alongside her contemporaries. “Music is comforting, and I hope this was a comforting night for everyone,” she said. And then she boarded a craft bound for an uninhabited shore in sub-zero weather, armed with some comfort of her own: a flask of vodka.