There’s an old saying that goes, “Two heads are better than one.” Generally though, it’s in the context of two people working together to solve a problem, will usually have a greater chance of finding a solution than one person working alone.
But the same holds true for Of Monsters and Men, who put on quite an impressive show last Thursday night at the World Trade Center Metro Manila. Most bands have one lead vocalist, but this five piece group hailing from Iceland have two lead singers/guitarists, Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar “Raggi” Þórhallsson.
They swooned the Manila crowd with their folk pop style of music, think Bjork meets Mumford and Sons. Their voices blend together seamlessly, Nanna’s lighter, wispy voice scraped every single high note throughout the whole set while co-singer Raggi blended his smooth, folk pipes with a magical ease. A wonderful match-up which you don’t experience often, with the skill level of each singer measuring out equally.
They started out the night with a shadowy lighting scheme, performing a “Thousand Eyes”, “Empire” and “King and Lionheart”, one of my favourites and the crowd also, as the fans perked right up.
And you could’t help but notice the number of performers on stage, nine in all, with the remainder of the core of the band comprising of guitarist Brynjar Leifsson, bass player Kristján Páll Kristjánsson, and drummer Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson.
But there was also four other musicians utilising several different instruments during their songs, including a trombone, trumpet, flugelhorn, tambourine, keyboards and even an accordion.
Now that’s a great deal of sound coming off of one stage, and it can quickly turn into one jumbled mess. But that was not the case here, along with the perfectly harmonised back vocals, this variety of instruments added more texture and layers to the songs which differentiated the tracks one from one another.
For some reason, their sound reminds me of a Grimm fairy-tale, something a bit dark, otherworldly, recognisable yet tells a story and is still acceptable for the kids.
The lighting matched the mood of the music, nothing over the top but done well, in reality you don’t need much lighting effects here, considering the songs themselves have such depth, overall the lights and effects complimented the music well, yet didn’t distract from it. As the band moved from their slower opening songs with a modest accompaniment, to playing their more notable tracks with a bit more razzle-dazzle with firing strobes, pulsing purples, yellows and blues, along with plenty of stage fog.
As the concert progressed, it felt like a crescendo was building, the two vocalists began hitting their stride in “Mountain Sound” which featured Nanna singing chorus with Raggi deftly assigned to the verses. There’s wasn’t much banter in between the tracks, with their endearing Icelandic accents, they just let the performance itself do the talking. Most of their music is acoustic guitar driven and much of it builds with a thunderous percussion, all while Nanna captivated the crowd, swaying rhythmically on guitar without missing a beat.
Their sound is suited to perform at large arenas and festivals, and they’ve hit all the biggies, including Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, and Glastonbury so it was quite a treat to see them here at a modest size venue.
By mid-concert, they kept things rolling along with a standout track, “Crystals”, the crowd were totally engrossed at this point, they followed with “Hunger” and “Wolves without Teeth”. The night began to peak towards the end of the show with “Lakehouse” while there was no mistaking the amount of fun the band was having as the crowd bobbed their heads back and forth with every “La la la.” and Nanna jumping off stage to interact with them.
Perhaps the energy peaked, when they broke into the infectious song called “Little Talks”, which is from their debut album, My Head Is an Animal. This is the track that rose the band to the international spotlight, embarking them on a journey of worldwide fame.
At the bridge of the song, two musicians in the brass section tore it up with a jazzy riff laden solo, and the crowd was in a tizzy. From there it began to wind down, ending the show with “Dirty Paws” and “Yellow Light.” The entire concert flowed well, with Nanna beginning and ending the show banging her heart out on a floor drum.
Sometimes two is better than one. Of Monsters and Men created a solid performance, with a combination of beautifully stunning vocals and a layered complex sound which was executed nearly flawlessly. Combine that with soft-spoken, gracious and highly-skilled performers in a newly remodelled venue which was well-organised by Karpos Multimedia. Finally, top it off with an enthusiastic Manila crowd that warmly accepted them while politely singing along, of course.
Well done indeed, if you missed it, next time don’t!