Of Monsters And Men in Maine

Matthew Shelter on August 3, 2012

Of Monsters And Men
State Theatre
Portland, ME
July 30

There are certain concerts where the buzz rippling through the crowd prior to the start of the show is just a little sharper. That was how it felt at the State Theatre in advance of a recent sold-out gig by Iceland’s own Of Monsters And Men. Of course, this wasn’t Madison Square Garden, but the 1,800 souls packed into the Portland, Maine venue were able to generate a fair amount of electric anticipation, especially since the vast majority of the crowd appeared to be between the ages of 16 and 25.

The band’s arrival on stage just before 10 pm generated screams of delight. The fact that those screams had a bit of a Beatles-at-Shea-Stadium teenage girl sound to them did make me wonder for a moment if perhaps my interest in this band was misplaced. The presence of a lot of screaming teenaged fans at a show can, musically speaking, be a bad sign. But when the band launched into “Dirty Paws,” the opening track on their very Nordic debut album, My Head Is An Animal, my concerns evaporated.

I think there’s a central threshold measure of a concert, particularly for a new band, and that is: does this band sound better live than they do on album. The answer should be yes, but that’s not always the case. For Of Monsters And Men, however, the answer was a resounding yes.

OMAM makes it living playing the kind of multi-instrumental, harmony-rich alternative folk sound that is enjoying a great renaissance of late, with scads of new bands offering their unique take on the path first trod by Simon & Garfunkel, the Byrds and CSNY. What has helped propel the success of My Head Is An Animal is the refreshing lilt in the voices of their co-ed co-lead singers, Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar Þórhallsson, and a song-writing style that is steeped in their home country (not sure an American band would come up with a song, like OMAM’s “From Finner,” about riding across the salty ocean on the back of a whale). What boosts their live show, though, is the stellar drumming of (here comes another one of those names) Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson (I’m guessing his close friends just call him A.R.).

The rhythm section obviously has a lot to do with how a band sounds on stage, and Hilmarsson was on fire for much of the show. He transformed some of their songs – which on album have more of an acoustic feel – into rough-hewn monsters (for lack of a better word), including “King and Lionheart,” “Six Weeks,” and show-closer “Yellow Light,” which galloped to conclusion on a roar of drums and trumpet.

If this brand of alternative folk really isn’t your thing, there’s probably nothing I can say that will get you interested in seeing Of Monsters And Men live. But for the rest, if My Head Is An Animal holds even a little appeal, it’s well worth catching this band’s live show sometime soon.