Of Monsters and Men has one trick up its sleeve, but it’s lavish and grandiose and it can whip a big audience into a joyous and memorable frenzy.
Friday night at the Midland, the band from Iceland did just that before a sold-out crowd of more than 3,000, unleashing a barrage of tuneful, high-energy folk-rock anthems, most of them loaded with hearty singalong choruses that kept the crowd engaged all night.
Monsters is a five-piece, but it tours with four other musicians who add all kinds of accents and embellishments: accordion, trumpet, saxophone, keyboards and lots of percussion, which give the music plenty of expanse and heft. Several songs sounded nearly orchestral, featuring both horns, four guitars, keyboards, bass, percussion and five-part vocals.
The band is led by a male-female duo, Ragnar Þórhallsson and Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir, who swap the lead-vocal baton regularly, sometimes from song to song, sometimes within a song. Both also play rhythm guitar. It adds another dimension and dynamic to the live presentation, which is all about the size and bulk of the sound.
The set list was loaded with tunes from “Beneath the Skin,” the band’s second album, released in June. It was a sorely needed recording. The band had been touring for years off its debut album, “My Head Is an Animal,” released in 2011. With two albums in its catalog, Monsters has enough material to easily fill a 90-minute set without resorting to covers.
The stage was set with three lighting fixtures that comprised narrow tubes arranged in odd geometric shapes through which streams and spasms of colored light burst and flowed. There were also gusts of fog and a back lighting of white lights that cast the band in shadows and silhouettes.
The “Skin” album is more substantive, moody and introspective than its predecessor, which cast Monsters among folk-rock revivalists and gang vocalists the Lumineers, Grouplove and Mumford and Sons. New songs like “Hunger” and “Wolves Without Teeth” were dark and moody, even when embroidered with horn fills, and were more rooted in rock than folk.
But the new record features some jaunty numbers, like “Empire,” which bears a Coldplay/Brit-rock flavor, and the galloping “Crystals,” a redemptive anthem with cryptic hippie-speak lyrics: “Cover your crystal eyes / And let your colors bleed and blend with mine.”
The crowd gave most of the new material a warm reception, although the drowsy “Backyard” fell flat. But the songs that sent the room into orbit were the favorites from “Animal,” songs like “King and Lionheart,” “Dirty Paws” and “Mountain Sound,” songs larded with pub-rock choruses and repetitive “ohs” and “ahs” and “whoas,” all of which stoked crowd participation.
The loudest and most kinetic moment of the night, however, was the room-rattling “Little Talks,” a brassy, boot-stomping folk-rock anthem with boy-girl lead vocals and gang vocals and lyrics filled with fist-pumping “heys” and “hos.” It remains the best trick up the Monsters’ sleeve, a moment that a crowd of 3,000 will wait two hours to hear and a moment that will bring them back to the next show.
Thousand Eyes; Empire; King and Lionheart; Mountain Sound; Black Water; Human; I of the Storm; Backyard; Crystals; Slow Life; Hunger; Wolves Without Teeth; Lakehouse; Little Talks; Six Weeks. Encore: Dirty Paws; We Sink.