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What’s Great in Live Music?

Summer is a time for live music, as many bands have album releases scheduled for the post-September months. With tours and festivals everywhere you turn, you might be wondering what bands really put on a great show. I had the pleasure of seeing Of Monsters and Men, Sigur Ros, and M83 recently and I can definitely tell you that all three bands put on phenomenal performances.

Honestly, I was nervous to see breakout artists Of Monsters and Men perform live. I love the band and their debut album My Head is an Animal so much, but I had no idea what they sounded like live and in some strange way I didn’t want to ruin my relationship to the album. Turns out I was worried for no reason- the live performance by Of Monsters and Men added immeasurably to my experience with the band. Opening with “Dirty Paws,” the first track off their debut album, co-singers Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar Þórhallsson showed off their brilliant vocals and refreshing energy.


Some highlights of the show: Nanna singing a quick, beautiful a capella version of the chorus on “Mountain Sound,” endless crowd surfers flailing on top of the audience during “Little Talks” and a heartfelt extended repetition of “so love me mother/father” on “Sloom.” Not to mention female singer Nanna jumping down the stairs and running in front of the crowd barrier during the instrumental explosion on “Six Weeks.” The show was phenomenal, and for those of you who saw them at the Newport Folk Fest, I know you’ll agree with me when I say that Of Monsters and Men leave nothing to be desired when they perform live.

I’ve heard that Sigur Ros were meant to be seen live. I’ve read that their shows are powerful, intense, and unforgettable. But, I had my concerns. While I love the occasional listen to the more intense, synth-heavy tracks off Takk… and Med sud I eyrum vid spilum endalaust, I was very happy with the subdued, minimalistic theme of Valtari. I was worried the live performance would be too intense, too loud, too heavy. I could not have been more wrong. After the concert, I can honestly say I will never listen to them the same way again. This band was meant to be heard live.

I was lucky enough to see Sigur Ros’ first show in four years last weekend in Philadelphia. When lead singer Jonsi’s vocals first soared out of the moody build-up of opening track “Ekk mukk,” I was blown away. No recording can ever do it justice. As the band’s first tour in four years, they were sure to please the crowd, playing songs from early albums including my favorite, ( ). They only played three songs from Valtari, including “Varuo,” which boasts the slow build up and magnificent, climatic conclusion of many Sigur Ros songs, but shied away from the quieter pieces that made the album so special. Still, there was not a dull moment as fans heavily applauded set closer “Hafsol” and waited for an epic, over 20-minute encore. Sigur Ros ended the show with “Track 8″ (aka “Popplagio”) from ( ) and guaranteed a spot on my list of most memorable concerts ever.

I would say most people only know M83 because of the wildly popular “Midnight City” off their 2011 masterpiece, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. So, I was understandably worried an M83 concert would be full of people just waiting to hear that one song- talking during many of the other ones and just generally worsening my experience. Again, I could not have been more wrong. From the time Anthony Gonzalez came out wearing a mask of the creepy bug/alien/monster from the cover of Hurry Up to the last resonating chords an hour and a half later, the show was one giant dance party where everyone knew the words. That being said, there were only a few songs with lyrics that were actually played- the concert focused on thumping beats and long, synth-heavy instrumental tracks that kept the crowd energized and pleased.

The band played a surprising amount from 2008’s Saturdays=Youth including rousing hit “We Own the Sky” that brought every hand in the building skyward and brooding instrumental “Couleurs.” “Midnight City” came at the perfect time, re-energizing the crowd but not quite closing out the night. The more subdued songs of the show were just as incredible- the quiet moments in a beautiful performance of “Wait” were appreciated by the whole crowd. The best part of the entire performance, however, was the light show. A dark backdrop with constantly changing spots of starlight stood behind the performers with beams of blue, green, pink, red, and purple taking turns dazzling the audience. Overall it was an incredible experience.

Of Monsters and Men, Sigur Ros, and M83- three incredible bands that I recommend you see live as soon as possible.

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