Of Monsters and Men at the Orpheum


“We kind of feel far away from home tonight,” admitted Of Monsters and Men front-man, Ragnar Þórhallsson, to the sold-out audience at the Orpheum Theatre in between songs Monday night.

It’s easy to understand why the seven-piece indie-rock sensation feels a little misplaced on their recently embarked-upon tour across North America. Originally from Iceland, the band has been in high demand – not only in their native country – but around the world, after the success of their debut studio album My Head Is An Animal skyrocketed them off of their island home and into the forefront of the alternative-rock world.

Although they could not technically be back home on Monday night, over the course of the day Of Monsters and Men transformed the Orpheum into a makeshift home and delivered a stellar performance as if they were not nearly two thousand miles away from their chilly native land.

Earlier in the afternoon, the band welcomed a select number of radio contest winners to watch in on their sound-check. In between songs, the band members joked around and discussed technical corrections in rapid fire Icelandic, much to the alienation of the small audience. Although they were only warming up for the evening, the songs the band previewed in the intimate pre-show performance filled the Orpheum with tremendous energy. Little did the winners know that the pulsating energy they witnessed in private was minute compared to what the night would have in store.

After opening performances from raspy folk-singer Elle King and fellow Icelandic crooner sóley, the small army that is Of Monsters and Men stormed the stage, visibly more comfortable in their temporary home than they were only a few hours earlier.

Purple lights and fog flooded the stage as the band kicked into “Dirty Paws,” the opening track off of My Head Is An Animal. Cheers and applause erupted from the audience as Þórhallsson and female co-vocalist Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir began the track’s quiet opening duet. The duet was only the calm before the storm and almost immediately, the song bursted into an instrumental cornucopia raising everyone in the theatre out of their seats and onto their feet.

Following this, Þórhallsson made his admission about the band feeling far away from home, and the group started in on “From Finner,” a song that aches with a longing for home but continues on bravely with a roving accordion melody and hearty chants from the seven members of the band.

As if addressing their longing for home was the final step in fully embracing their new short-term home, Of Monsters and Men displayed their growing comfort by taking ownership over the willing audience. Þórhallsson and Hilmarsdóttir each took control over one half of the audience and pitted the sects of Bostonians against each other to see who could sing their respective parts in the upcoming song louder. Once the rules were explained, the Icelanders ripped into the infectious backwoods stomp of “Mountain Sound.” The youthful fun of the song was electricity in the air, getting everyone in the crowd singing and dancing along.

After “Mountain Sound’s” raucous conclusion, the results of the competition between Þórhallsson and Hilmarsdóttir’s teams were deemed too close to call. Taking a break from their own material, Of Monsters and Men then slipped into a cover of Yeah Yeah Yeah’s 2009 song “Skeletons”. The cover fit in seamlessly with the rest of Of Monsters and Men’s catalog and the group performed it as naturally and as comfortably as can be.

Þórhallsson stepped aside for a moment and handed over all vocal duties to Hilmarsdóttir for her solo ballad, “Love Love Love.” “This next song is a song about love,” Hilmarsdóttir said earnestly, garnishing applause from the audience. Letting out a laugh as she prepared her guitar, she joked, “Why are you clapping? You’re supposed to be booing! ‘Boo, Love! Boo!’”

All jokes aside, Hilmarsdóttir and her ballad of dysfunctional love took center-stage against the dark lights and fog behind her, creating the one of the night’s most vulnerable and moving performances.

Hilmarsdóttir and her open heart did not remain alone on stage for long, as Þórhallsson quickly rejoined her and together, they led the rest of the band into the thumping anthem “King and Lionheart.” The members of the audience raised their hands in the air and, mimicking the beat of a lion’s heart, clapped along with the mighty rhythm of the bass drum.

Of Monsters and Men kept the energy going in their new kingdom-for-a-night with the intimate war cry of “Lakehouse.” During the song’s arena-sized climax, a single fan in the audience whipped out a full-sized Icelandic flag and waved it about proudly, much to the group’s amusement. As her bandmates continued jamming to the conclusion of “Lakehouse,” Hilmarsdóttir approached the flag-wielder and invited him onstage, where he danced with the blue and red flag in between Þórhallsson and Hilmarsdóttir. Once the song ended, the flag-wielder knew it was his time to exit and left his flag with the smiling Þórhallsson, who proudly wrapped it around his microphone stand.

With the colors of their faraway native country on full display for all to see, Of Monsters and Men kicked it into full gear and unleashed their smash hit “Little Talks” to an incredible roar from the audience. The powerful duet between Þórhallsson and Hilmarsdóttir about lost love was spine-chilling performed live and invigorated even more by the entire Orpheum’s accompaniment on the song’s inescapable “Hey!” hooks.

At this very moment, Of Monsters and Men were in their pinnacle of performance. With the Bostonian audience chanting their very own “Heys!” back at them and the colors of Iceland proudly displayed center-stage all thanks to a passionate fan; one realizes that, even if only for a single night, moments like these are Of Monsters and Men’s home.

And just like that, the chorus of the band’s earlier song, “From Finner” finally begins to make sense: “Far from home, all alone, but we’re so happy.”

By Chris Gillespie
Photos by Libby Webster and Chris Gillespie

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