On Further Review
by Julie Stoller
House of Blues
“Far from home, all alone, but we’re so happy” – From "Finner"
photos by Julie Stoller
In the overwhelming vastness of the sold out House of Blues, hearing Of Monster's and Men's lead singers, Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar ”Raggi” Pórhallsson, sing this simple line made for a moment of special poignancy. They’re a new band, in the sense of international recognition, and here on their first tour in the states, they’re selling out nearly every show.
It’s because of the massive (and well deserved) success of their EP and debut album, particularly “Little Talks,” which has become perhaps the defining anthem of this year on the alternative radio circuit. The newness of the experience of playing for such large “foreign” audiences here in America, and the outpouring of appreciation and acceptance has the band obviously humbled and taken aback. Their honest surprise and gratitude informs their presence, which is a mix of proud confidence and shy vulnerability.
a Best of 2012 Album Selection
Seven strong in this live setting, the band plays in a straight line across the front of the wide stage, right up front, refreshingly open and engaging with the audience. Each band member carries equal weight in musical contribution and it’s a powerful statement that washes over you like a strong ocean wave. Theirs is a huge sound – pounding percussion, the dual vocals of Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar ”Raggi” Pórhallsson, keyboards, bass, electric and acoustic guitars, and occasional accordion and trumpet. They’re honest, exotic, charming, folksy, joyous, triumphant, mysterious, softly tragic (“Love Love Love”), unabashedly romantic (“King and Lionheart”) and wildly addictive.
There’s a happy exuberance and anthemic quality to their music, with some hints of familiarity (Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Arcade Fire) that may have been the initial draw for audiences. But where they chart their own course is in the somber undercurrent that runs through their songs; in both sound and lyrics, they reference rough and open seas, the dark shadows of relationships, and creatures of foreboding woods.
“Alone, I fight these animals, alone, until I get home.” from Six Weeks
The real reason, initially, I felt I could not, under any circumstance, miss this show - was because of the fellow Icelandic artist who supported them. Lay Low (Lovísa Elísabet Sigrúnardóttir) had so impressed me at the ‘Reykjavik Calling’ show at the Paradise Rock Club a while back… No, impressed isn’t nearly strong enough – I had stood there throughout her set with my jaw on the ground. She was completely on her own this night, in that huge room, and that in itself must take the sort of courage I can’t even comprehend. Her opening words to the surprisingly attentive audience were “look at this place… and look at all of you!”
From that moment, and growing steadily throughout her beautiful performance of heartfelt songs, acoustic guitar and sweet, soulful vocals, she stole everyone’s hearts so completely, that an exuberant young man, overcome with emotion, cried out “MARRY ME!” Lay Low didn’t quite hear him properly (or perhaps just teasingly pretended not to), and responded with “Carry you? You want me to carry you? I’ll carry anyone!” Folky, bluesy, rocking, adorable, passionate, charming, and with a magnetic pull on the audience, she left the stage to wild applause.