At the Orpheum Theatre on Sunday, May 12
It’s hard to imagine a band more ideally suited to headline theatres than Of Monsters and Men. The Icelandic ensemble’s lush, earnest baroque tunes are grandiose enough to reach the rafters in even the most spacious of rooms, so it’s probably a good thing that the group didn’t spend too long slogging it on the club circuit; following a Vancouver appearance at Venue last spring, this gig at the far larger Orpheum sold out months in advance. Not bad for a band whose debut album came out on these shores scarcely a year ago.
Half an hour before the opener was scheduled to hit the stage, the line for the merch table in the lobby was so long that it snaked up four sets of stairs and reached the lower balcony level. Those who weren’t stuck in this insanely lengthy queue witnessed a solid opening performance from the Montreal-based Half Moon Run, whose songs ranged from ethereal space rock to atmospheric folk to thundering drum circles. The multi-instrumental members shifted between keyboards and guitars and percussion, and drummer Dylan Phillips charmed onlookers by reminiscing about visiting the Orpheum as an eight-year-old to watch the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. The set was warmly received, and the group exited to a standing ovation from much of the early-bird audience.
Between bands, a huge white sheet was hung up at the front of the stage. This meant that Of Monsters and Men appeared as murky silhouettes when the members walked out and eased into the soft, folksy intro of “Dirty Paws”. The sheet predictably dropped when the arrangement swelled a minute in, revealing a stage decorated with large white orbs and dangling light bulbs.
From there, the outfit launched into a series of cinematic cuts from My Head Is an Animal. Nearly all of the songs adhered to a rigid formula of quarter-note handclaps, duet vocals, stripped down verses and triumphant crescendoes; these were frequently punctuated by “la-la” refrains and the occasional shouted “Hey!” The only notable variation came in the form of instrument swapping, as piano was occasionally switched out for accordion or trumpet. Even a cover of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Skeletons” sounded practically identical to the band’s own material, as the synth-driven original was transformed into a soaring folk-pop anthem.
As repetitive as this stylistic blueprint became, there was no denying its success, since the crowd remained standing for the entire 75-minute set. Many showgoers abandoned their chairs to head down the aisles and convene at the front of the room, and they enthusiastically clapped and sang along during highlights like the bouncy “Mountain Sound” and the epically climactic “King and Lionheart”. The band showcased a new tune called “Beneath My Bed” that—surprise, surprise—was a rousing stomper and sounded more or less likely everything else.
The musicians didn’t say much between songs, but singer-guitarists Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson offered up occasional thank-yous and pleasantries in thick Icelandic accents. The musicians’ outfits were comically mismatched; Hilmarsdóttir wore a sparkly dress, while bassist Kristján Páll Kristjánsson looked ultra-formal in a knee-length tuxedo coat and bow tie, and Þórhallsson donned a ska-chic fedora.
As the set wore on, the seven-piece kept the excitement level high with a few effective visual tricks. It utilized a bubble machine during the uncharacteristically low-key “Love Love Love,” and “Lakehouse” culminated in two cannons spewing glitter into the first few rows. This led into the brassy surge of the hit “Little Talks”, the galloping rhythms of which inspired the night’s wildest cheers and most uninhibited dancing.
Prior to the show-closing “Yellow Light”—which featured some truly beautiful snowlike confetti during the hypnotic outro—Þórhallsson thanked the crowd and added, “This is the first show on our tour and it’s been a great one.” Judging the by enraptured sing-along that ensued, there wasn’t a person in the building who would have argued with him.