Photography by Peter Dovgan @PeteDov
When I first heard of Of Monsters and Men, I couldn’t help but compare them to their fellow indie rock darlings, Arcade Fire. Both came out of nowhere on the heels of a brilliant debut album, both have a style of indie rock that’s infused with more instruments than an orchestra, and both bands have no less than seven people on stage at one time. While Of Monsters and Men resemble Arcade Fire in many ways (on paper anyway), how do they stack up on the stage?
Well, if their performance at the Sydney Opera House was anything to go by, Of Monsters and Men have proved themselves to be equal to Arcade Fire in the live performance category, but as they’ve always managed to do, it’s in their own unique way. The band’s sophomore album, Beneath the Skin, is distinctly more morose and introspective than their feel-good debut release My Head is an Animal, but the set list is crafted in a way where cuts from both records play off each other in perfect synchronicity.
The tone for the night was immediately set with the opening trio of songs. The somber ‘Thousand Eyes’ starts slow, but finishes mid-crescendo; ‘Empire’ picks up where ‘Thousand Eyes’ left off and steadily builds more anticipation; and finally, the band pays off all that suspense as the ever-popular ‘King and Lionheart’ gets us all on our feet for the first of many ovations.
With at least seven people performing at all times, things did look a little claustrophobic on-stage, but that was nullified by the band’s presence. Lead vocalist Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir cut an enchanting figure with her breathy vocals and energetic antics, co-lead vocalist Ragnar Þórhallsson prefered to let his voice and guitar do most of the work, and the rest of the band filled any gaps by rotating through every instrument imaginable and indulging in some welcomed crowd work.
The band’s expansive sound is generally more suited to larger venues and festival sites, but the Opera House proved to be quite a good fit for several of the slower songs such as ‘I of the Storm’ and ‘Backyard’. It was at this point Nanna claimed (almost nervously) that we’re all a bit quiet tonight, a brief moment of self-consciousness that was actually quite endearing. Yes, everyone was quite reserved at times, mainly due to the venue and the sizeable amount of mature concert-goers, but she didn’t need to worry about anything – everyone was simply enthralled. Proof: you could count the number of phones that were recording on one hand. If the angelic singer was still concerned, once the opening chords of ‘Mountain Sound’ were strummed, almost all the entire audience were on their feet.
Continuing with two of Beneath the Skin‘s more rousing tracks, ‘Crystal’ and ‘Wolves Without Teeth’, a crescendo built which climaxed with the best three-song-finish imaginable. ‘Lakehouse’ had everyone on their feet, ‘Little Talks’ triggered spinal goosebumps as the “HEY’s” kept getting louder, and ‘Six Weeks’ erupted with a sing-a-long and ovation. The applause lasted the entire gap between closing track and encore which proved to be handy, as we stayed up for a rare performance of ‘Silhouettes’, an extended rendition of ‘Yellow Light’, and finally, a foot-stomping take on ‘Dirty Paws’.
As all nine members of Of Monsters and Men took their final bow, I was left to ponder how the band managed to make the Opera House feel so big and small at the same time.
If you’re now suffering from severe FOMO, here’s a taste of what new single ‘Crystals’ sounds like live.
I may never win a Grammy, solving the piracy issue is way out of my skillset, and I'll probably die of joy if left alone in a room with The Strokes. All I can do properly is write words about music stuff, and hope that people will read it. If you want to debate why 'Is This It' is the best album ever, or you're just bored one day, hit me up on Twitter @alexandervpanView all posts by Alexander Pan