REVIEW: Of Monsters and Men, Highasakite @ Massey Hall (Toronto) | May 4th, 2015

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By Chip Whitley. Kicking off the first show of their tour in Toronto, five-piece Icelandic indie folk-pop group Of Monsters and Men and Norwegian indie pop rockers Highasakite performed at Massey Hall last Monday night. This was one of the most anticipated and sold-out lottery shows of this year’s Canadian Music Week. These musicians each brought a colourful international flair to the vintage-feeling venue.

As soon as the venue doors opened, people filed restlessly and excitedly into their red velvet seats with the usher-imparted demand that absolutely no video, photo or audio recordings be taken during the show by request of the band, joining the progressive purist ranks of Jack White, Prince and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. This reviewer finds it a welcome stipulation, as I don’t particularly fancy seeing a sea of pixels blocking the view of perfectly worthy rock demi-gods.

Highasakite graciously floated onto the stage accompanied by a set of a half dozen mood spotlights, baking them in an ethereal glow as they pulsated to the beat of their gently psychedelic tunes. Their lower profile, magnificently hypnotic quality and singer Ingrid Helene Håvik’s purple mane and silky voice allowed them to creep up on an unsuspecting, stifled Toronto crowd. It’s a shame their set was only a half hour long – they were an unexpected highlight of the show and have won at least one new fan.  Kristoffer Lo on drums also deserves a mention for his impressive rhythms.

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After a brief intermission, Of Monsters and Men finally took the stage and the difference in the crowd’s response became apparent. They were here to see OMAM and their arrival finally put an increasing spark into the calmly composed audience.

Lasers and lights illuminated the Nordic troupe and matched their enormous energy, with lead singers Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar Pórhallsson complementing each other smoothly and bringing an understated but determined stage presence. “First show of the tour,” Hilmarsdóttir said coyly after a couple house-shakers, and everyone cheered giddily, electrified to be part of such an exclusive occasion.

A reverse domino effect occurred halfway through the show when a few stray, perhaps stoned dancing people in the mob forced everyone off their feet and then a begrudging standing ovation turned into a rapturous revival of crowd spirit that seemed slightly lacking up until then. “I love it when you stand!” cheered Hilmarsdóttir.

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Since their debut My Head is an Animal is their only officially released album, the midtempo folk sounds seemed almost too familiar and the crescendo of slow-into-epic came off repetitive at times and called a Mumford and Sons structure to mind, but the crowd didn’t seem to care and clearly connected with it strongly anyway.

Their new single “Crystals” and a couple other tracks off the upcoming album Beneath the Skin were performed to the beguiled throngs, who clasped for an encore after the surprisingly short 90-minute concert. But to everyone’s great fortune the band returned to the stage to perform “Dirty Paws” and “Little Talks” back-to-back to overdose us all on greatest hits.

The girl next to me turned and said, “I heard them years ago and the way their voices blend together made me want to cry.” And then she danced and clapped and spilled her beer on me. OMAM left the stage and the crowd refreshed and ready for the rest of Canadian Music Week.

Photos by Tiffany Lam

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