Booking three back-to-back shows in New York City can be daunting for any artist. “You feel this kind of other pressure,” Of Monsters and Men co-lead Ragnar Þórhallsson said from the back patio of The Ludlow Hotel in New York City. Vocalist and guitarist Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir agreed. “You feel like they see your every move,” she said.
The last time the Icelandic folk-pop quintet came to New York, it was under different circumstances. They were one the most desired musical campfires of 2012-13, bringing their unbridled joy from stage to stage, with one of the buzziest albums on the charts. My Head Is An Animal‘s follow-up, the darker Beneath the Skin, came out in the middle of June and while it was moderately well-received, it lacks any single as catchy as “Little Talks” or “Six Weeks,” and hasn’t quite taken off in the way their first effort did.
So three nights, two at the famed Beacon Theater and one at the newly opened King’s Theater in Brooklyn, might seem an industrious stand. At first, the band agreed, booking just one night uptown, but a second show slid in due to overwhelming demand. It doesn’t take more than a note or two into opening number “I Of The Storm” off their new collection to remember why. Of Monsters and Men are the purveyors of a unique, completely unharnessed musical joy. It is undeniable, and clearly, judging by the three booming crowds, irresistible.
If you thought people had grown tired of clapping to swollen harmonies and melodies that often hinge on “Hey! Hey! Hey!” and “Oh! Oh! Oh!”-patterns, well, you’d be dead wrong. Thursday night 3,000 people jumped, clapped, and beamed throughout the entire set — which the band was actually late for.
“There’s a guy in town,” Hilmarsdóttir told the crowd sheepishly halfway through the set. “The pope,” she laughed before explaining the group was caught in traffic. She dedicated the next song to the Catholic leader. Over the course of 80 minutes, they focused on the new album, playing 10 songs off it to their debut’s eight, and the group’s delight in touring new material is palpable.
“It felt so good,” Hilmarsdóttir said of adding the new collection to the setlist. (My Head Is An Animal originally released way back in 2011 and the group toured aggressively with it for four years.) “Not just having new songs,” she continued, “but also that this one is so much closer to where our minds are now.”
Asked if the novelty of launching into “Little Talks” has worn off, they both quickly disagreed. “It’s fun to get the reaction,” Þórhallsson said. “People get so excited,” Hilmarsdóttir added. “To feel that, it feels amazing.” And it does, for the crowd as much as the singers during the show. Everyone claps — no, literally, everyone claps — and it all blends into one.
Of Monsters and Men’s tour continues through the first week of December, but after they break fans will get to see them in an entirely new light. Entertainment Weekly confirmed this week that they will make an appearance on Game of Thrones next season.
Both are visibly amused by the curiosity into their role, but also staunch in their secrecy. “They said to give a ‘No Comment’ and a wink,” Þórhallsson shrugs before smiling and doing just that. But it’s clear they’re obvious fans; Jon Snow’s death was tragic for both but for Hilmarsdóttir, it could have been worse. “If Tyrion died,” she says, “I would be so upset I wouldn’t be able to move.”
And as for new music, they assure that fans will not be waiting another four years for another album. Though,”If we did,” Þórhallsson said, “then it wouldn’t take long before we could say, ‘Oh we’ve been a band for 20 years…'” Here’s hoping the wink he delivered after was a promise of something to come sooner.