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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

Seeing Of Monsters and Men

Until this week, I had been to one concert at Jillian’s in Albany, and wasn’t exactly eager to go to another one. Jillian’s is normally a sports bar, but it has started hosting more shows, which involves clearing the tables out of the restaurant area, shutting off the televisions, dimming the lights and setting up a stage. When I caught the band The Naked and the Famous there in November, I found myself pressed up against a wall, straining to see, with a strong case of agoraphobia setting in. To make matters worse, I was too afraid of losing my spot by the wall to go buy a beer. Eventually, my friend and I decided to leave and get a drink at a less crowded bar. The music was fine, but not good enough to justify such a high level of physical discomfort.

Anyway, last week I returned to Jillian’s to see the Icelandic band Of Monsters and Men. Of Monsters and Men is often described as an indie-folk band, similar in style to The Decemberists, but I don’t think this label does them justice. What I saw on Tuesday night was a tight rock band with folky tendencies, creative instrumentation, sharp vocals and clever songwriting. Of Monsters and Men were so good that they transcended the limitations of the venue. Rather than feeling hemmed in by the capacity crowd, I was somewhat energized by the size of the audience. People were into this band, and excited to see them, and it gave the show an extra charge. Also, my friends and I managed to stake out a pretty good position near a booth, and the people in the booth allowed us to stand on the elevated flooring beneath their booth, which made it possible for me to actually see the band. And when I ventured over to the bar, I discovered that the bartenders were extremely efficient, and that it was possible to buy a beer quickly and easily.

The sound at Jillian’s is not particularly great (and if I had learned anything in the musical acoustics class I took in college, I could explain why), but Of Monsters and Men performed with so much skill and exuberance that it didn’t matter. Their terrific song “Little Talks” has been getting played to death on local radio, but it’s clear that they have a lot of other good songs on their debut album, “My Head is an Animal.” Almost every song told a story, and almost every song was a rollicking, uptempo journey, enhanced by unusual (at least for rock music) instruments such as a trumpet and accordion. As good as the band’s recorded work sounds, their songs have more of an edge when performed live.

I’ve seen a bunch of good concerts lately, but none has been more purely enjoyable than Of Monsters and Men. Perhaps I wasn’t expecting too much, and so the show exceeded my expectations. The opener, the Icelandic singer and guitarist Lay Low, was also pretty impressive, managing to create a rich, full sound despite performing solo. Two days later, I’m still in a good mood from the whole experience, and if that’s not the mark of a good concert, I don’t know what is.

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