Until recently Of Monsters and Men were strangers to the UK’s music scene. Scanning the jostling crowd it’s hard to believe how rapid their rise has been: London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire is rammed.
Hailing from Iceland, the indie six-piece first appeared on the radar after winning their national battle of the bands contest in 2010. Debut album ‘My Head Is An Animal’ signalled a ticket to mainstream success, with anticipation for lead single ‘Little Talks’ palpable tonight.
Set opener ‘Your Bones’ lets Nanna Hilmarsdóttir’s chilling vocals ring out with a feisty, feminine edge against a backdrop of heart-thudding drums, triumphant trumpet and folksy accordion. Co-singer and guitarist Ragnar Þórhallsson complements her with powerful layered harmonies throughout ‘Six Weeks’, in an inspiring call to arms to “fight these animals.”
‘Mountain Sound’ and ‘From Finner’ are shining highlights, even if the chorus to the latter does resemble The Wombats' ‘Let’s Dance To Joy Division’ less the high-on-blue-smarties hyperactivity. Comparisons with Arcade Fire are not misplaced but while they produce an enjoyable performance, Of Monsters and Men seem hard-pushed to rival the musical giants.
By the second half of the set the number of tracks depending heavily upon an arrangement of “laas” is verging on silly. Nevertheless, “laa” is easy to sing along to, and the crowd show no objection in doing so: "If you can’t beat ’em, join 'em" is a fitting motto tonight.
People talking over the quieter and more delicate ‘Love Love Love’ are met with frustrated "shushes" but, just as the band risks sounding more like mice than monsters, the epic ‘King & Lionheart’ snatches all attention back.
Finally the crowd’s thirst for ‘Little Talks’ is relieved as excitement bubbles up in the form of raucous clapping and feet-stomping. Surrendering his microphone to the sea of full-throated fans now lapping the stage, Ragnar jumps down to hi-five the front row as a trumpet solo heightens the sense of jubilance. The rest of the group let loose on stage with climactic instrumental texture, punctuated by a regular air-punching “Hey!” from the crowd.
‘Lakehouse’ is heralded by an explosion of sparkling confetti that incites a spattering of "oohs," while the haunting refrain of calmer number ‘Sloom’ could slip seamlessly into a Mumfords track.
Prior to the final song, Ragnar encourages all hat-wearers to don their headgear in celebration of National Hat Day in Iceland, a quirky "fun fact" indicative of a band who refuses to take themselves too seriously. Despite this, ‘Yellow Light’ suffers from a post-‘Little Talks’ fall in energy, before Nanna’s efforts to rouse the troops with cries of “Let’s make this a really good ending! Let’s all sing together and have a happy time!” are dutifully heeded.
Of Monsters and Men pull out all kinds of stops on a handful of songs tonight, but the overall set lacks a vibrancy that lingers. The colours seem murky, a tad too beige, and few moments stand out.
Talent competition winners they may be but while a good time was had by all, tonight’s performance lacked a little x factor.
Words and photos by Jess Denham