Of Monsters and Men, Vance Joy @ Metro Theatre, Sydney (29/01/2013)

More ambitious than Mumford & Sons, more accessible than Arcade Fire; listening to Of Monsters and Men’s debut full-length My Head Is an Animal, it’s not hard to figure out why the Icelandic five-piece became arguably the biggest indie success story of 2012. Their arrangements are busy, but far from alienating, and they seldom neglect to include an arena-ready chorus at just the right moment. There’s no question that the group’s pop sensibilities are to thank for their recent commercial and critical success, and their rise in popularity over the past year indicates that the band are destined to soon be banging out those stadium-worthy refrains in the hollowed-out concrete slabs known as the Hordern Pavilion and Festival Hall, which makes tonight’s intimate gig at a sold-out Metro Theatre all the more special.

By the time the sole support act Vance Joy takes the stage, the venue is already nearing capacity, and the young, excitable audience seem intent on giving the Melbourne singer-songwriter their full attention, for about thirty seconds. Vance (real name: James Keogh) spends the rest of the set battling against incessant chatter, which is a shame, because the kid is clearly talented and deserves to be heard. His Dylan-esque guitar arrangements, combined with an impressive vocal range, make for catchy pop songs with a unique sense of sophistication that is often absent from modern folk music. Highlights include the ukulele-driven ‘Riptide’ and a stripped-back cover of Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’, though the latter is lost on the majority of the largely Gen-Y audience. Keogh leaves the stage to deserved applause, though one can’t but wonder how many of those in attendance actually heard a word that he said.

There’s no such chatter when Of Monsters and Men wander on stage, the audience instantly enthralled by the band’s joyous energy. Kicking the set off with album opener ‘Dirty Paws’, it’s immediately evident that tonight’s performance won’t be light on the grandiosity that permeated the band’s debut. Trumpet, accordion and an assortment of other quirky instrumentation infuse a sense of majesty into the music, giving depth to the band’s sound beyond the simple song structures and catchy hooks.

Of Monsters and Men’s music certainly lends itself to audience participation, with an extra percussive layer added to nearly every song by means of audience foot-stomping or clapping (albeit mostly out-of-time), not to mention the massive sing-along refrains that feature at least once per track. The call-and-response vocals of singers Nanna and Raggi also promote audience involvement, as evidenced by the deafening vocal assistance provided to Raggi during the chorus of early highlight ‘Mountain Sound’. This most definitely isn’t a performance tailored for the arms-folded type of concertgoer.

The assault of foot-stomping anthems continues for the remainder of the band’s set, the only relief from the constant barrage of infectious jubilation being a cover of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ ‘Skeletons’ (though even that is embellished with a little bit of hand-clapping), as well as the comparatively downbeat ‘Love Love Love’. To say that this kind of endless enthusiasm could become tiresome would be an understatement, so it’s a good thing that the band don’t outstay their welcome, clocking off after just under an hour, finishing with the one-two punch of mega-hit ‘Little Talks’ and fan favourite ‘Six Weeks’, before returning for a brief encore.

Though the set is light on banter, Raggi does stop at one point to thank the audience for voting ‘Little Talks’ to the #2 position in Triple J’s Hottest 100. While they were beaten to the finish line on Australia Day, when it comes to live emotion and energy, Of Monsters and Men are no runners-up. Your move, Macklemore.