all words: Courtney Pitman, all photos: Elizabeth Parker
What is there to say about a band you reviewed seven months ago?
Much like their setlist, there’s not much in the way of new territory to discuss, but the nonstop touring since December’s sold out 9:30 Club show has helped launch Of Monsters and Men to even grander heights. Tuesday’s show at Merriweather Post Pavilion was nothing short of a victory lap celebrating that pinnacle. With thousands of fans making the trek to the legendary venue, OMAM did not disappoint, swelling their sound to match the space, Icelandic folk-pop ringing triumphant.
OMAM’s offerings spanned the entirety of their first album, My Head Is An Animal, kicking off with album opener Dirty Paws, which interrupted the delightfully traditional Icelandic tunes playing during the set changeover. Though the sea of people on the grounds was already evident, it wasn’t until the one-minute mark of Dirty Paws—right as the quiet folk tune of the first verse explodes into full instrumentation—that the implication of the evening’s scale fully sunk in.
In April 2012, several hundred friends and I packed ourselves into Black Cat for OMAM’s first foray in DC, a day before their full-length dropped. With Christmas lights as a backdrop—literally, the same classy lights that hang on my porch 12 months per year—the group performed their songs to an audience that was largely hearing them for the first time that very evening.
Since then, OMAM has grown to incorporate snazzy set design and add multi-instrumentalist touring members to their band, allowing them to reach their full folk glory with magnificent crescendos of accordion, piano, and errmahgahh that TRUMPET. The injections of trumpet were consistently highlights of the evening, either adding an extra layer of music, or carrying/saving slower tunes like Your Bones and non-album track Beneath Your Bed with delicious solos. Additionally, drummer Arnar, who frequently finds himself without a job during extended acoustic segments, continued his growth into the role of band mascot, inciting crowd participation from the back of the stage and just generally being adorable.
Given the vastness of Merriweather, OMAM’s larger songs like Mountain Sound, Six Weeks, and Little Talks were the natural high points of the evening, allowing everyone to yell along as loud as they’ve always wanted to. In fact, the nature of OMAM’s music is so participatory that at times the audience is making as much noise as the band itself. Little Talks, which they must absolutely hate playing by now, was by far the loudest part of the evening, and after another errmahgahh trumpet solo, the whole band went quiet to let the crowd yell the final chorus by themselves. Conversely, the effectiveness of quieter songs like Love Love Love, which should be an intimate moment for female singer Nanna, was lost in the Merriweather setting.
To my surprise, the biggest moment of the evening was Lakehouse, a track I’m somewhat indifferent towards on their album. During Tuesday’s live rendition, however, it struck me that the song and the performance are emblematic of all that is magical about Of Monsters and Men. Rolling all of their irresistible attributes into Lakehouse, here is the anatomy of charm, a la Of Monsters and Men:
- Open on quiet or acoustic intro featuring male/female trading vocals
- Instrumental explosion after the first verse!
- Build into a loud, upbeat, percussion-driven chorus
- Lace the delightful vocals (and trumpet!) through to slow the pace and then swell it again throughout
- Instrumental break for some quality group clapping
- La la la la las. Lots and lots of la la la las.
- And then for good measure, shoot confetti onto the crowd during the final instrumental explosion
The evolution from April 2012 to June 2013 is mildly mind-blowing. As the crowd roared over and over again I got a little choked up by the scale of it all… The people from all walks of life, the music sounding spectacular on the huge Merriweather system, and the upgraded set design were all brought together by a band with one album on a beautiful June evening. Of Monsters and Men has certainly been on some kind of journey over the past year, and we were all lucky just to be a part of it on Tuesday night.
But wait, there’s more!
Montreal indie rock trio Half Moon Run opened the evening with some bass-heavy jams, before the three sisters Haim stormed the stage with their LA wiles. As they picked up their instruments, I caught snippets of conversations between tweens and their parents on either side of me at the same moment: “I think it’s called ham.” “Hame? I’m pretty sure that’s what it is. It’s like the Dixie Chicks.”
Several things, here, friends… If anyone else in the pit had been between the ages of 18 and 45, they would have known the 90’s-appropriate reference (that I’m sure Haim hates) is Alanis Morissette respawned as a female take on Hanson. Or, for the parents, today’s Fleetwood Mac. Instead, I heard the words “Jesse McCartney” and I was left to freak dance out amid a perfectly respectful crowd that was kind enough to leave me to my own devices.
Seemingly self-aware of all of the above comparisons, Haim destroyed all preconceptions with their 5-song, 30-ish minute set, which surprisingly strayed pretty far from the heavy-handed pop of their recent singles. In person, the three sisters and their drummer mister allow their musicianship to take center stage.
And on a stage as large as Merriweather, they kept themselves from being swallowed with their tendency towards pure rock and roll. Settling comfortably into their set on the third song, a raging cover of Fleetwood Mac’s blues-rock anthem, “Oh Well,” Haim proved their range while telling off whoever assigned them the uber PG, cowbell-heavy, “Hold Me” that the group recorded for last year’s Fleetwood Mac tribute album.
Their three-part harmonies and drum solos sprinkled throughout marked the various high moments, along with bassist Este’s absolutely epic grimaces, which I found myself mimicking on several of my dance moves. They ended the set on the dark Let Me Go, surprisingly foregoing their best/most accessible offering thus far, Don’t Save Me.
Haim is halfway to blowing up without a full-length album. Given their set on Tuesday, they’ve got the depth of songs and there seems to be plenty more to look forward to. My only request: a true recording of The Wire so that I don’t have to keep refreshing the YouTube video every 4 minutes and 26 seconds.
You’ve already won me over in spite of mmmbop, and don’t be alarmed if I fumbled it when it came down to the wire.
AND, MORE PHOTOS: