Of Monsters & Men @ Park West
it takes a pretty great band to get me to head into the dank, black pit of chicago's park west. this is my least favorite of all the windy city's hoppin' venues, and it is a shit show at it's finest. i feel like christian bale is going to come tearing around the corner with a butcher knife and a fingernail of coke at any moment ala american psycho. not a very fitting vibe for most bands, really, but they continue to book shows here and call it historic, and if of monsters and men is playing there (on 3/30), then there i must go. (and when in doubt, cover everything in white christmas lights - they fix most evils.)
first, let me give some credit to the wee bit of humble pie that opened for monsters. lay low is another icelandic vocal beauty, though you couldn't pay her to know it. her songs were sweet and simple. she seemed to stumble over her english when she was speaking, but you couldn't help but love her sheer modesty. her emotions were dripping down her tim burton-esque black and red striped guitar strapped sleeve as she coerced the audience to buy her cd...per her managers request. so honest. so pure. quite the gem of an opener. if you like lisa hannigan, you'd dig her.
lay low timidly started the sing-along that would continue throughout the night, with "the backbone," and got everyone's mouths churning for the la-la-la-ing and hey! hey!-ing that was to follow. enter side note: singing along at shows is quite the pet peeve of mine, but even i broke my rule and joined in on the fun for "little talks."
of monsters and men sold out the park west based nearly entirely on a four song lp released in december 2011. this snippet of songs may be the four poppiest of their first full-length album 'my head is an animal,' but the rest of the album pulls together the range of their sound. many thanks to npr for selecting 'animal' to preview prior to it's longed-for release date of april third; not to mention the rest of the online music sharing sites like spotify and pandora, that even brought in an adorable vest-clad couple all the way from alberta, canada to catch a glimpse of these guys. this show exemplified eleven of the albums tracks, plus one surprise flashback in their encore. i will return to this when the time is right. (hey! hey!)
the show opened with "dirty paws," a new song from 'animal,' and started like any other standard concert (tuning, lights, crowd, clapping, song, intro)...and immediately took a turn for the unique when the band paused to acknowledge a front-row super fan with his face donned in a monster mask. not only did they stop to have a chat, but guitarist, Brynjar. actually pulled out his camera and took a pic of this guy. this was only a sign of things to come...
"finner" followed, hyping the crowd to the familiar track and nanna's and raggi's sweet sounds. hyping the crowd, in this case, was pretty amusing on its own. recap: all-ages, sold-out, i'm two rows back on the floor...this was the most docile and polite, yet exuberantly awe-struck head-bobbing audience i've ever seen. there was at least six inches of space between every person on the floor, no dirty looks, no thrown elbows, no tripping on beer bottles. somehow monsters brought their icelandic charm to the park west and through vocal osmosis made everyone behave like civilians...and we all had a great time.
in case you weren't one of the nine hundred folks who made it through these doors, nanna's style epitomizes what urban outfitters yearns to accomplish. between her hot pink dr. marten ankle boots, black tights, denim button-down shirt, and signature patterned wool cardigan and hat, she tops it all off with a loose side braid that seems to actually be a cover for a buzzed left side of her head and moderately gauged ear piercings. she's indie-folk at it's finest. essentially the band appeared like a rummage sale gone right.
aside from their album-quality sound on stage, their perfectly careless attitude really cherried this sundae. singing along to themselves, swaying slightly to their own beats, they floated along like fishing bobbers down a river. genuine appreciation was written all over their consistently baby-soft faces, and if there was any doubt how much they like their fans, arni's mom even knitted little monster keychains for them to hand out along the way. dude-in-monster-mask deservedly received one, followed by (at the band's request) asomeone wearing red socks. somehow a brunette in gray stripes managed this, but nonetheless - who gives out homemade chotchkies at a show? this band! i'm officially in it for the long haul with 'em...
the enormity of the bad is completely lost in their sound. though i only know them to have six members, a seventh joined on stage for the duration and several members played multiple instruments throughout the twelve-song set. no sound ever became overwhelming, with the exception of arnar's drums midway through "beneath my bed," that seemed a bit ferocious for the song...but passionately so. he quickly regained his ohm and beat away the rest of the show smoothly. i've heard them consistently compared to arcade fire - probably due to the similarity in size, but if i had to compare them (which i'm so fond of doing) to anyone i'd say they're more like an indie-folk-pop icelandic female-led mumford and sons.
now that i've chatted my way through the essence of the show, i'll close with their encore - an unexpected cover of the cure's "close to me." raggi's tender voice initiated a completely different tone, and the band as a whole so successfully recreates this classic that i almost forgot how it originally went. they did to 'close to me' what jose gonzales did to the knifes' "heartbeats." sans sony bravia commercial. wrap it all up with "lakehouse," watch nanna scour stage for sweater, cue lights, enter lobby, purchase awesomely discreet band t-shirt for twenty bucks, and head home...
Of Monsters & Men are now out on tour, and if you happen to be reading this on 4/5, note that their show from Brooklyn tonight will be streaming live.
More pictures and the setlist from the Chicago show, below...
Of Monsters and Men
beneath my bed
slow and steady
king and lionheart
love love love
close to me
close to me (encore)