Icelandic folkies Of Monsters and Men took the DC area by storm earlier this month, playing not once but twice. The first was an intimate artists showcase in the afternoon sponsored by a local radio station, and the second was later that evening at Black Cat.
The evening started off with fellow Icelander Lovísa Sigrúnardóttir, who plays under the name Lay Low. While her voice had a bit of a wispy little girl quality that I often find tiresome, she kept enough force behind it with her aggressive playing and foot stomping to keep it well entertaining. It was especially effective on ‘Horfið’, a song she sang in her native tongue. The last song of the set ‘Please Don’t Hate Me’ was a rousing song complete with looped vocals, giving a hint at what it might be like to see her play with her six-piece band. This song was more forceful and the best of the evening.
Fronted by two acoustic guitar wielding singers, Of Monsters and Men does not instantly strike you as the standard recipe for world domination. And yet, every U.S. date has been sold out. They are definitely non-standard fare that has a strangely wide appeal. No less than three different band members took their turn at the accordion – an instrument not often found at the squat, clubby venue we found ourselves at that night. Two keyboards and an ever present trumpet played by touring member Ragnhildur Gunnarsdóttir, contributed to the unique Of Monsters and Men sound. The stage was delightfully adorned with tiny white lights that lit to life on the first loud burst and continued to add a whimsical air to the stage all night. And of course, last but not least, the dual vocals of Ragnar þórhallsson and Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir with their acoustic guitars were amazing. The band was rounded out by Brynjar Leifsson on guitar, Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson on drums (and aforementioned accordion, and wearing a fetching sailor suit – !), Kristján Páll Kristjánsson on bass and Árni Guðjónsson on keys. The small stage was crowded with musicians and gear, and a wine bottle was the ultimate victim as it plunged over the side spilling half its contents on the floor when one too many band members tried to slide by.
Playing a rather short set – just twelve songs total – Of Monsters and Men started out with ‘Dirty Paws’ and had the crowd singing right from the get go. Despite the fact that the album was not to be released in the United States until the following morning (and sadly, the band were not shipped any early to be sold at the merch table), the vast majority of the people knew the words to this and many of the other songs. Ah, the power of Youtube! In fact, there were numerous cries for ‘King and Lionheart’ – a clear crowd favorite, as well as my own personal fave.
I had been lucky enough to have a friend from Iceland send me a copy early, but learned at the show that two new songs had been recorded just for the 3 April release. So, the next morning I was online adding my two cents to the juggernaut that landed them in the #1 spot for downloads that day. We were treated to both of the new songs live. ‘Mountain Sound’ included the sing along “Sleep until the sun goes down / deep into the mountain sound” and ‘Slow and Steady’ has an catchy, slow burning appeal to it. ‘Beneath the Bed’ was a song that didn’t make the album (neither the Icelandic or global release) but was a great rocking tune. However, it was easy to see how it didn’t mesh with the rest of the album and had to be sacrificed.
The music was jubilant, infectious and crowd pleasing. And the band is already set to return to the States in the summer. So when they make their foray over to the UK and Europe, be sure to grab a date when you can: America loves them and may just want to keep them.
After the cut: Of Monsters and Men set list.
Of Monsters and Men Set List:
Beneath My Bed
King and Lionheart
Love, Love, Love
Close to Me
Slow and Steady