Live Review: Of Monsters and Men with Pure Bathing Culture at Marymoor Park 8/9/15

all photos by Matthew B. Thompson

Of Monsters and Men are no longer the undiscovered artists who charmed audiences across the web back in 2010 with their intimate, stripped back living room performance, recorded by KEXP, of “Little Talks”. Since signing to a major label subsidiary, Republic Records, for their debut album in 2011, the Icelandic folk rockers have journeyed upwards towards rarefied stratums of commercial success. Their two LPs peaking in the top ten of the Billboard 200 and three singles reaching the top ten on the alt charts (including “Little Talks” climbing all the way to number one) are the marks of a band, however intentionally or not, treading the line between alternative and mainstream.

Fittingly, the audience members for Sunday’s show at Marymoor Park were a far cry from the handlebar-mustached, suspender wearing hipster stereotype that once personified this decade’s folk-rock revival. They were families, cross-generational and united, college students rocking frat shirts and bro tanks, and couples in all stages romance, from young loves to old flames. Judging by the smallish percentage of audience members standing for opening band, Pure Bathing Culture, not many from the crowd would be the type to scour their local records shops for new releases from bands on smaller labels like PBC’s Partisan Records. But is that a bad thing? I’d say no. OMAM are a band of the people, and the fact that they haven’t changed their sound drastically since their first glimpses of fame is a heartening testament to the power of commitment and vision.

I first saw Pure Bathing Culture perform over four years ago in Spokane opening for Fruit Bats to a crowd of about thirty people. They were good then, and a lot better now. Vocalist Sarah Versprille noted half way through the set that the close to 5,000-person crowd was the largest the band had ever played for. And while it’s easy for openers to get lost in the mix of late-coming concertgoers, pre-gaming concession stand dwellers, and the general hullabaloo of pre-headliner excitement, PBC commanded the stage with authority and grace. Though originally a duo, the band has smartly expanded to a four piece for live shows, and the addition of drums and bass adds important character and immediacy to their 80’s slow jam vibes. In fact, while the Portland group performed plenty of moodier, introspective songs such as “Pendulum” from their 2013 self-titled album, the new line-up really came to life playing their more up-beat material such as the title track from their upcoming record Pray for Rain. Indie-pop enthusiasts should mark their calendars for that album’s October 23rd release.

Even before Of Monsters and Men took the stage, there was a sense that their show had already begun. While guitar techs fiddled with tunings, and audience members tried in futile waves to slow clap the band onto stage, a low foghornesque sound emitted from the main speakers like a calm but foreboding wind. When the nine Icelandic performers from the band’s touring ensemble finally did begin to play, dressed in all black and accompanied by the grey mist of a fog machine, they felt less like musicians and more like spirit guides sent from a faraway land. As such, OMAM eased their way into the set, keeping the banter brief and letting the audience come to them with relatively subdued performances of newer hits like “Crystals” and “I of the Storm”. For a band characterized by epic builds and releases, they seemed determined not to reveal all their cards too early in the set.

That all changed with a perfectly timed performance of “Mountain Sound.” Almost as if an obsessive tour manager had kept tabs on sunset times for each date and city, the band chanted the chorus refrain, “We’ll sleep until the sun goes down” at the exact moment that darkness overtook the sky above Marymoor Park. And if there’s one skill that sets OMAM apart from their oft-compared folk-rock contemporaries, Mumford and Sons, it’s the ability to change pace and styles, even if only for a moment. On “Mountain Sound”, they do it with back beat snare slaps that pay homage to the early days of 60s rock, on “Little Talks” with horn flourishes and converging vocal melodies. Either way, with all the lyrics of traveling, climbing, and voyaging afar, the goal is the same: to give the audience a sense of arrival. Once the sun set, the band blazed through their final four songs and another three-song encore with the vigor of a marathon runner reaching the homestretch. By the time the last note rang out and the crowd wandered back to their cars in a contented daze to The Proclaimers’ “500 miles”, an overwhelming feeling took hold that everyone was already home.


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