Of Monsters And Men @ The Corner Hotel, 20th Of July

On Friday night Icelandic band Of Monsters And Men played their first ever show in Melbourne to a rapt and sold out crowd at the Corner Hotel. Their set was so consistently strong that it beggared belief coming from a band who have only released one album, and the high points of the night stand out as some of the most enjoyable times I’ve had at a gig so far this year.

The Trouble With Templeton, also known as Brisbane singer/songwriter Thomas Calder, was the second support act of the night but the first that I arrived in time to see. He’s one of those artists who I’ve heard a lot about and have been meaning to check out for a while but just never got around to it, so I went into his set without any preconceived expectations. Perhaps partly because of this, I really enjoyed his music. Apparently he usually plays live with a band, but even as a solo act the sound he managed to create was quite impressive, filling the venue with nothing but his voice and an acoustic guitar.

He played nice and pretty acoustic folk music that sometimes seemed to have a bit of a darker edge to it, and when he let loose his voice soared. Although the crowd’s attention was sporadic at best, it was obvious from the warm reception that greeted the end of each song as well as the occasional applause in response to the beginning of a particularly well-known track that everyone enjoyed the set. For me, The Trouble With Templeton was a great way to start this gig, and I look forward to checking out more of his music.

The six members of Of Monsters And Men walked out onto a dimly let stage and wasted no time breaking into opening number Dirty Paws. The song grew slowly to a climax and as the drum finally kicked in so did the stage lighting, revealing a beautiful backdrop of fairy lights shimmering over the crowd and illuminating the band. It was a fantastic and wondrous moment, and really set the tone for the rest of the night. Dirty Paws was flawless: it’s a song seemingly designed to be played live, and the band immediately got the crowd involved in the set as much as possible.

It was one of those great gigs where the band just seem to be having so much fun that the audience can’t help but get carried up in their energy and passion. Of Monsters And Men have the same sense of pure, unbridled happiness and fun to their live music that makes bands like Edward Sharpe so much fun to see play. Every bandmember just seemed to be having the time of their life, from the drummer Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson who spent most of his time standing up conducting the crowd, a feat I never expected of a drummer, to Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson and Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir who shared vocal and frontman duties to fantastic effect.

Indeed the interplay between the two lead vocalists was the standout of the night for me. Their voices are so different to each other but yet they are perfect together, whether they’re harmonising or singing in a call-and-answer pattern. Add in some atypical instrumentation, such as ample use of a piano accordion, and you have a sound that feels very familiar but yet is quite different to most other music going around at the moment. It doesn’t hurt that the one studio album the band have released so far, ‘My Head Is An Animal’, is filled almost entirely of joyous folk songs and potential singles, which enabled them to play a decent length set that never dragged on.

Highlights included King And LionheartSix Weeksand From Finner, which included the fitting line of “We are far from home, but we’re so happy”. It was however Little Talks that was predictably my favourite song of the night. The moment it started the crowd and band alike seemed to just let loose, and what followed was five minutes of mindless singing, clapping, dancing, and at times screaming. Anybody who didn’t know every single word to the song must have felt sorely left out. It was up there with the most fun I’ve had at a gig in a long time, and I can’t even really put my finger on why. It’s just such a very, very good song, and everything seemed to come together perfectly on a cold Melbourne Friday night to create the perfect atmosphere for it.

It was a hard act to follow, but the band returned after the main set for a three-song encore that included one new song and closed with the beautiful Yellow Light. The song grew to a gradual and restrained climax as the band intoned a wordless chant and the crowd followed suit. One instrument after another was added to the mix until a veritable groundswell of sound cascaded over the venue, only to fade away in a heartbeat, leaving only nothing but silence. And that was that.

Of Monsters And Men had been absolutely fantastic. They had that sense of electric energy about them that can only really be captured by a new band, and a sense of fun pervaded everything that they said and did. There were moments of euphoria in this set comparable with some of the very best live folk acts I’ve seen, and it’s little wonder that Of Monsters And Men are already building such a large and dedicated fan base. It is after all rather hard not to fall in love with them.

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