Monday night’s show with Of Monsters and Men felt like a sort of homecoming. Though the Icelandic group had never before been to Seattle and is currently on their very first official tour of the United States, there’s been a lot leading up to their sold-out show at Showbox SoDo. We had first witnessed Of Monsters and Men in 2010 during Iceland Airwaves and immediately began to champion the band. By the time we’d caught up with them a year later, they were the most buzzed about band in Iceland with an international record deal already in the works. You can hear them now on just about every alternative station nationwide, both commercial and independent, and surely you’ll soon hear them on television commercials and movie soundtracks. So much had happened since we first saw them in their living room that their finally making it to Seattle, the first city outside of Iceland to play their music, felt like a powerful moment for fans and the band.
The Seattle fans loudly showed their love, packed shoulder to shoulder in the sold-out SODO space, yelling along with each song from the forthcoming debut, My Head Is an Animal (finally out in U.S. next Tuesday!). The band, too, was clearly stunned by the response and even took cell photos from the stage as the audience cheered them on. Their giddiness enhanced their music, which is already charming to begin with, and no doubt broke smiles across the faces of even the most jaded hipsters, if there were any to be found in this crowd. Opener “Dirty Paws”, “Lakehouse,” and “From Finner” were definite standouts, and the crowd nearly exploded at the opening chords of “Little Talks”, but even the new songs, two bonus tracks on the North American release of the album, easily held their own and proved the band has much more to offer. There’s just something imminently likeable about Of Monsters and Men that appeals to so many people. A happiness exudes from their music, even when they’re singing about unrequited love or following creatures into the woods. While you can’t help but hear their influences and their contemporary touch points (Arcade Fire and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros most obviously), they’ve already shaped recognizable sound, as then they monsterize The Cure’s “Close to Me” for their final encore song. Soon enough, their happy/dark folksiness will have you making comparisons of other bands to them!
While some people are speculating about the cause for Of Monsters and Men’s rapid success -- which is no doubt due as much to talent and determination as to fortune and opportunity -- we at KEXP are immensely proud to see this band become so beloved by so many people. Evidently, the feeling was mutual, as Of Monsters and Men, who also had other obligations to take care of, took the time to play a private “soundcheck” set exclusively for KEXP listeners, volunteers and staff before the show. It was the first time almost everyone in the room had heard the songs live, songs they knew intimately from our daily playlists, and during the five-song set, all from their new album and culminating with their smash hit, “Little Talks,” many of their most devoted fans (us included) teared up with joy at this special moment.
Before the main set, Icelandic singer/songwriter Lay Low opened, also a repeated guest on KEXP. Any solo performer on stage before 1,800 fans awaiting the headliner would be nervous if not downright terrified, but Lay Low is such the consummate performer that even her self-deprecating quips seemed self-assured. She’s often been referred to as the “Icelandic Patsy Cline”, but on her latest album, the Icelandic-sung Brostinn Strengur, Lay Low rocks out a bit, so here performance was part rootsy folk and part footstomping rock. And the crowd ate it up, entranced enough to keep the dull roar of conversation that usually rises up during acoustic sets to a low mumble. As a parting gift, Lay Low taught the audience how to say “more” in Icelandic so that when Of Monsters and Men finished their main set, the crowd could chant “mei-ra” until they came back.
Tonight, both Of Monsters and Men and Lay Low perform in Chicago and will hit the rest of the East Coast for the next two weeks. Northwest fans will get a chance to see them again at Sasquatch! Music Festival on Memorial Weekend. If you’re still somehow on the fence about this band, go back and check out or videos, listen to KEXP, or go to the Live In-Studio Performances archive at KEXP.ORG. With this band, you don’t want to miss out!
Of Monsters and Men soundcheck photos by Jim Bennett:
Lay Low photos by Dave Lichterman:
Of Monsters and Men main show photos by Dave Lichterman: