There are few more cherished moments in a band’s career – the breakthrough song has found a handle on a niche audience, the underground buzz has begun to filter out, the debut album will drop in less than a month. The band rock into town, and play upstairs in the attic of the Student Union to a gaggle of early enthusiasts. The occasion doesn’t disappoint.
A somewhat forgettable support set underlines niggling doubts in the air. Of Monsters And Men’s first LP may be available already in other parts of the world – they’re already stars in Germany, apparently – but here there are still a few long weeks to wait. The songs we have are a delight, but have they anything in reserve?
Opener ‘Dirty Paws’ puts pay to that. Within minutes, a rapport has been struck between dual frontwomen Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir and Ragnar “Raggi” Thorhallsson and their attendees. Space is at a premium in Academy 3 tonight, but there are no signs of intimidation from the stage. If we doubted whether they have an album full of worthwhile tunes for us, it’s certainly not distracting the band themselves – tracks are rattled through with energy and expression, comfortably translating their passion to the crowd.
There’s no question – Iceland has done its fair share for us in pop music over the last few decades. Of Monsters And Men are perhaps more of a reminder of Hafdis Huld or the criminally underrated Teitur, with their playfulness and positive disposition, than with the cosmic elegance of those more firmly established names, but nevertheless you wonder what it is exactly that enriches that frigid air to produce such a creative hotbed.
And so as the night progresses, attention shifts with a sigh of inevitability to THAT song. The audience can be heard singing the intro to ‘Little Talks’ between tracks long before it actually surfaces. In the end, they place it, rather interestingly, in penultimate place in the main set. Whether or not Of Monsters And Men have become sick of the song yet, it is a rousing, clap-a-long rendition that more than satiates the night-long anticipation. But arguably more impressive is the actual set closer – as yet unreleased – which matches the exuberance of ‘Little Talks’ and confirms a grandstand finish to an hour-long set.
An encore is forthcoming, but it feels somehow unnecessary. The songs that follow are far from poor, but the sense is of an anticlimax. But they are young, and the pacing of their performance is something that will become natural as they gain experience. They have a lot in their favour – not just geography – and when they return to Manchester, the venue will be grander and the songs better known. Their job now is to ensure that the energy levels can sustain.