Of Monsters and Men w/ Lay Low @ House of Blues, 4.7.12

by Erica Moser (Journalism), published April 9th 2012

photos by Kenny Sun

Yellow stage lights illuminated hands waving Icelandic flags in a packed House of Blues on Saturday. Some college students may not have heard of the Icelandic group Of Monsters and Men, but those who have constitute a loyal following. These fans supported the sextet – and an accompanying trumpeter – when they played in Boston, following stops in Philadelphia and New York City.

The show began at 7 p.m. with Lovísa Elísabet Sigrúnardóttir, an Icelandic singer-songwriter better known by her stage name Lay Low. She spent about 40 minutes strumming soulful folk tunes on her 11-string guitar (apparently, her friend and soundman broke the 12th). One of the highlights was “Please Don’t Hate Me,” which did not seem a difficult request for someone so charming and endearing.

A few minutes after 8, Of Monsters and Men came onstage and opened with “Dirty Paws.” The song began with mysterious hushed voices and guitar picking from co-singers Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson. When this ended in a dramatic pause and gave way to louder guitars, the stage lit up with yellow fairy lights. It gave the venue the vibe of a cozy backyard performance on a summer’s night.

The group was promoting their album My Head is an Animal, released in the U.S. on April 3. The album had been out in Iceland since September, but the U.S. version included two new tracks, “Mountain Sound” and “Slow and Steady,” and they played all 13 from the latter release.

Of Monsters and Men was proficient on guitar, bass, drums, piano, trumpet and accordion. In particular, the drummer bounced about and mouthed along with great vivacity. Their guitar parts and song patterns have drawn them comparisons to Mumford and Sons, and the abundance of “hey”s and “la la la”s – along with the male-female duets – are reminiscent of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes.

They were particularly strong on “Your Bones” and “King and Lionheart.” After nine songs, they performed “Little Talks,” the single that brought the audience into an audible sing-along. They followed and ended with “Six Weeks” before returning to play “Sloom” and the unreleased “Beneath my Bed” as an encore.

The downside of seeing an up-and-coming band was evident stiffness and nervousness; the musicians seemed to still be thinking about what they were doing. Hilmarsdóttir, the lead female singer, occasionally stumbled over her words. Otherwise, her voice – which is similar to that of Kate Nash – was pleasant, sounding emotive in her fragmented phrases. While Of Monsters and Men does not yet have a powerful presence analogous to the lions they oft sing about, their talent and versatility reflect promise.

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