ACL Fest 2015 review: Of Monsters and Men, a sunset swan song

Of Monsters and Men co-lead Nanna Brynd’is Hilmarsd—ottir at ACL Fest on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. Photo by Stephen Spillman for American-Statesman
Of Monsters and Men co-lead Nanna Brynd’is Hilmarsd—ottir at ACL Fest on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. Photo by Stephen Spillman for American-Statesman

Saying goodbye to the last rays of the sun on the final day of ACL Fest’s first weekend was easier with Iceland’s wondrous indie pop band Of Monsters and Men holding forth on the Samsung Galaxy Stage. Best known for their 2012 smash hit “Little Talks” — its video has nearly 160 million YouTube views — the group proved to be much more than a one-hit wonder in a splendid hourlong set that spotlighted their facility for tuneful and dynamic songwriting.

Co-leaders Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir and Ragnar Thorhallsson fronted a nine-piece ensemble that featured a healthy male-female balance rarely seen in contemporary pop music. Perhaps that’s part of what makes their music so broadly appealing. Onstage, their sound was laid out in layers: two multi-instrumentalists in back, a drummer flanked by two keyboardists in the middle, and an electric guitarist and bassist up front on either side of the two central voices. Despite such a large lineup, they were careful not to overwhelm the beauty of their material.

Their presentation was purposefully minimal; they chose a gridlike metal backdrop over anything fancy or florid, and screened their video jumbotron shots in black-and-white. The music didn’t need further enhancement, and that was refreshing on a festival weekend when the tendency can be to pull out all the stops theatrically.

Of Monsters and Men co-lead Ragnar Thorhallsson at ACL Fest on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. Photo by Stephen Spillman for American-Statesman
Of Monsters and Men co-lead Ragnar Thorhallsson at ACL Fest on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. Photo by Stephen Spillman for American-Statesman

About the closest Of Monsters and Men came to big-time showmanship was when Hilmarsdottir took a stroll down the catwalk bisecting the crowd near the end of the set, but she didn’t ham it up or overextend her welcome, returning the stage after a minute or two to rejoin her bandmates.

The set drew from this year’s “Beneath the Skin” as well as the band’s 2011 debut “My Head Is an Animal.” When it came time to play “Little Talks,” Hilmarsdottir and Thorhallson smartly downplayed it, allowing for its low-key opening and closing passages, and following it with the set-closing “Six Weeks,” which gave a stronger final push. Time will tell just how well Of Monsters and Men is built for the long haul, but on this enchanted evening, they certainly came across like lifers.

 

 

Author: Peter Blackstock

Music writer for the Austin American-Statesman and austin360.com. Twitter: @Blackstock360

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