Whatever indie cred Of Monsters and Men may have acquired was probably lost when "Little Talks" sneaked its way into Top 40 rotation alongside Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars.
The trade-off is that the Icelandic band, making its Pittsburgh debut, was greeted by one of the biggest crowds of the year Wednesday night at Stage AE. Based on how it went, we expect that those fans will be coming back the next time.
Of Monsters and Men builds a flowing indie-folk sound around the vocals of the lovely Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir, who looks a little like her countrywoman Bjork and even sings a bit like her, minus the avant-garde weirdness.
With its mythical songs of forests and ghosts, Of Monsters and Men falls in line with the Lumineers and others as a poppier Arcade Fire. Just about every song has a spot in the chorus for a rousing "hey!" " la la la" or "whoa-oo-oo." Its unique sonic twist is a grinding steampunk-ish sound effect that accents many of the songs. Perhaps that's the monster.
The seven-piece band's debut album, "My Head is an Animal," has made it a headliner, so the concert is a matter of playing those songs, most of them anyway, in a different order, starting with the opening track, "Dirty Paws." The band heightened the drama by doing the first verse behind a curtain, which dropped when the "hey!" chorus kicked in. It revealed a beautifully lit stage, adorned with glowing orbs, that changed from orange to red to blue.
Ms. Hilmarsdottir was draped in loose garment that looked like a muted version of Joseph's coat of many colors, offset by the bass player wearing a black tux. The magic of this Monster is how her halting, siren vocals blend with the thinner, raspier voice of Ragnar Porhallsson, no better than on the near-perfect "Mountain Sound," where she chimes in with a goosebump-inducing chorus of "Hold your horses now/through the woods we ran."
The band doesn't break much from its poppy formula, but it did vary the pace with the dreamier ballads "Love Love Love" and "Slow and Steady." Drummer Arnar Rosenkranz Hilmarsson drove the rockers with force and multi-instrumentalist Ragnhildur Gunnarsdottir spiked the energy whenever she picked up the trumpet.
The set was short and sweet, topping out under 70 minutes, with the band doing most of the album's 11 tracks and adding a good unreleased rocker "Beneath the Bed" and a cover of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Skeleton," that was pure Of Monsters and Men. They ended in dramatic fashion with Ms. Hilmarsdottir putting down her guitar and standing high on the monitors for the shimmering, atmospheric album closer "Yellow Light."
A lot of the indie-folk bands that have popped up the past few years are going to fade quickly. As Nanna Hilmarsdottir and her Icelandic crew showed Wednesday night, they have that special something.
There was no reason to catch the opening act at Stage AE when the world's greatest busker, Glen Hansard, was doing an early set across the river at the Three Rivers Arts Festival.
The Oscar-winning folk-rocker of The Swell Season ("Once") and, better yet, The Frames, brought his band and a string section along to play to several thousand in Point State Park. Because of the threat of storms, it started early, so I missed a few songs, but he played a long set and covered a lot of ground.
One would never call this Irishman "emo," but he pours out so much emotion, nearly every song feels like the showstopper. "Leave" was a wonder, ending with him venturing into The Who's "Love Reign O'er Me." His cover of Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks" ended with the thunder that skies wouldn't deliver until much later -- on an acoustic guitar!
The Frames' favorite "Fitzcarraldo" found him positioned in an orchestral jam session between the strings and brass. He did some beautifully hushed work with singer Lisa Hannigan on "Gold" and "O Sleep" and extended the encore to 45 minutes bringing his old Dublin mate and Pittsburgher Mark Dignam on stage for a cover of Fairport Conventions "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" and rocking the park with a funky version of The Band's "Don't Do It."
Glen Hansard. For free. On a Wednesday night. The Arts Festival couldn't have done better than that.
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.