Of Monsters and Men in exultant Philadelphia debut

Of Monsters and Men delivered an exultant 90-minute set Tuesday at the the Theatre of Living Arts. ANTHONY BACIGALUPO
Of Monsters and Men delivered an exultant 90-minute set Tuesday at the the Theatre of Living Arts. ANTHONY BACIGALUPO
Posted: April 05, 2012

Add the Icelandic sextet Of Monsters and Men to that list of rock acts with a "Philadelphia story." Joined by seventh musician Ragnhildur Gunnarsdóttir on trumpet, accordion, and keyboards, the cheerful Icelanders delivered an exultant 90-minute set at the Theatre of Living Arts on Tuesday. It was the first of two sold-out nights and their purposefully chosen live Philadelphia debut, coming on the release date of their keenly anticipated debut album, My Head Is an Animal.

The Philly honor roll that Of Monsters and Men has now joined includes old regional faves such as Yes and Peter Frampton (both playing before 130,000 at a gate-crashed JFK Stadium gig in June '76) along with a semi-local guy from Jersey named Springsteen. And like them, Of Monsters and Men's special Philadelphia rapport stems from early commercial radio play here - in this case, via local "modern rock" station WRFF (104.5 FM), which began playing OM&M's single "Little Talks" last summer. That infectious, alternating boy/girl-sung number - suggesting a folked-up Scandinavian Arcade Fire or a better Mumford & Sons - drew huge listener response, earning it heavy rotation and prompting similar radio stations nationwide to add it.

The band's charm begins with its visually contrasting yet vocally complementary lead singers. Strumming his lefty acoustic guitar, the chunky Ragnar "Raggi" Thórhallsson proved an amiable jokester onstage, possessing an affectingly textured voice that sounded good even when making up a ditty about a bespectacled concertgoer dropping something over the stage barrier. Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir, who initially started the band to flesh out her solo endeavors, strummed and sang in her own distinct voice, repeatedly thanking Philly, in her clear Icelandic accent, for the band's good fortune - and only then evoking the sound of her more famous countrywoman Björk.

Although their fine, slowly building acoustic/electric cover of the Cure's "Close to Me" has been a regular live-set treat, Of Monsters and Men favored Philadelphia with their tour's longest show yet, 15 songs in all. For sure, it's hard to imagine Thórhallsson anywhere else goofily prompting Gunnarsdóttir to deliver her climactic trumpet on "Little Talks" as he did Tuesday, by calling for "a cheesesteak solo!" (And in case you missed them this time around, WRFF has confirmed the band's return here for a free July show celebrating the station's fifth anniversary.)

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