Of Monsters and Men: of SWAT teams and aliens

Of Monsters and Men - Hammerstein Ballroom

Succumbing to a wall of sound is an expected outcome at a live concert. But almost getting blinded by lights?

Of course, lights abound at concerts. Thousands of watts worth. But at the Hammerstein Ballroom last Thursday evening, the thousands of watts of brightness accompanying the Icelandic group Of Monsters and Men seemed to demonstrate a novel idea of function. Confronted with a row of five unapologetically bright floodlights stacked above a few square strobes, all planted behind the band and aimed toward the crowd instead of originating from the ceiling and aimed at the band, I felt like I should have either put my hands high in the air while waiting to be read the Miranda rights, or prepared to be beamed aboard an alien spacecraft. As it turned out, either scenario would have been more interesting than watching one and a half hours of light.

The pic above, admittedly not best quality as it was shot with a camera on a smartphone (no regular cameras were allowed), is pretty much what faced the crowd for the entirety of the show, give or take a switch from white to yellow light, excepting a few brief instances here and there when the entire stage went dark. Why did the band, known for delivering uplifting melodies, choose to create such an apparently obnoxious atmosphere? Perhaps they were assisting the venue in foiling any photo attempts via the power of the infamously difficult backlit scene.

Or, the band wanted to observe the faces in crowd, to take in reactions. To turn the ballroom into a posture-based focus group that would reveal the response to their new songs.

Or they may have been showing us how they indulge their hometown crowds back home in Iceland by overcompensating for the country’s long, dark winter.

In any case, what I do know is that stealing glimpses of the silhouettes on the generously large stage at the Hammerstein was about as exciting as watching a couple houseplants on a windowsill…at night, during a visit by a SWAT team that forgot what it was supposed to do.

When I attend a concert, I yearn for a dimension not found on a recording: the visual manifestation of the band’s emotional energy, capturing the moment, stamping the experience with a sense of place and time: anything from subtle tics and fidgets betraying passion to band members feeding off each other, and feeding off the crowd, adapting to the instant, creating a connection between band and audience.

Of Monsters and Men is not known for their stage show, but there could have been all kinds of magic moments swirling in and out of their performance. I’ll never know, because I couldn’t see much of it. We got little more than a smock-like outline of singer Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and a lock of the drummer’s hair flying about like a shadow puppet in a breeze. And glowing blue spots dancing in our eyes afterward.

All this is unfortunate, not just because I felt I missed out on the liveliest part of the live show, but also because I enjoy the music of Of Monsters and Men. Their flavor of indie-folk carves out a modern enough style to appear in The Hunger Games and the Walking Dead, yet simultaneously puts forth a timeless sound that could have comfortably found itself on a bill with Siouxsie and the Banshees in the mid-1980s. In their dreamy and enchanting offerings, throughout the yin-yang, tag-team lead vocals of Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir and guitarist Ragnar Þórhallsson, the band is always aware of space and dynamics as they deliver melodies you can hang on to.

Silhouettes of introverted stage poses notwithstanding, plenty of concertgoers were bouncing in their seats and singing along, and even in the aisles, especially during “Little talks,” their last encore (and, incidentally, the only song during which the stage crew shut down the SWAT team/alien spacecraft high beams). Which just goes to show that merely being in the same building as Of Monsters in Men as they perform is enough for many of their followers.

If you still desire the full live experience of Of Monsters and Men, however, there is an easy solution: you should see them in the daytime.

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A Year of Blessings

2014 was a busy year for me, and I was fortunate to land many of my pieces in well-respected publications. That was a blessing in itself. One can imagine, therefore, how honored I felt when I found out that my work published last year won several awards.

Corvina fans take note: Love, Death, and Protein,” my first piece for On A Junket, won a bronze medal (Travel and Food category) in the 2015 Travelers’ Tales Solas Awards.

The Death of the Red Devils,” a tale about the now-defunct hand-painted buses of Panama City, won a silver medal in the Solas Awards’ Culture and Ideas category (the piece previously won Transitions Abroad’s 2014 Travel Writing Competition).

Sending a bright message that we should all be eating more lionfish, my piece about said invasive species in Belize, appearing in Roads & Kingdoms last year, won a gold medal in the Solas Awards’ Animal Encounter category. This was after I was notified that National Geographic Traveller extracted the piece when they chose Roads & Kingdoms as one of their favorite travel blogs for the month of November 2014. (Make that “favourite,” because Nat Geo Traveller is published in the UK.) The piece also recently appeared in the compilation Adventures of a Lifetime: Travel Tales from Around the World (World Traveler Press), released in January.

Meanwhile, in the North American Travel Journalist Association Awards, alongside such writers as Andrew Zimmern, Anja Mutic, Tim Leffel, Michael Luongo, and Andrew McCarthy, I was awarded a bronze medal for my piece “Istria’s Edible Empires” that appeared in Unmapped Magazine.

Congratulations to all the winners! A complete list of the Travelers’ Tales Solas Awards winners can be found here, and the NATJA winners’ list appears here.

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Albino Critter Alert: Going Off the Deep End

Looking up at the surface, roughly 300 feet above us.
My lowest point. Literally, that is.

Here is the story of my journey to a depth of 2,000 feet underwater in a homemade submarine off the coast of Honduras’ Roatan Island. It’s a planet within a planet down there.

The piece, my first with Narratively, is part of a travel series in partnership with Expedia, and is accompanied by stunning pics taken by the venerable Lia Barrett.

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“Each of us is one key of a keyboard.”

Annai runway, Annai, Guyana

Meet the Makushi, a First Nation whose population of 15,000 straddles three South American countries and has withstood many challenges to its culture. In “Playing the Right Chord in the Rupununi,” my latest piece for Unmapped, I catch up with one of the Makushi’s community leaders and discuss how the Makushi of Guyana are dealing with mining companies and the influence of their larger neighbor to the south, Brazil.

Oh, and you’ll also encounter the Double Wheel Meat Shop and Disco, a cabbie named Rasta, and a sprinkling of reggae-flavored Christmas carols.

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Fur for Thought

Just in case you haven’t had your fill of alpacas…

Here are the extra photos for my article “Touching the money fur in Prince Edward Island” that appeared in the San Diego Reader a few weeks back. All shots were taken at Green Gable Alpacas on Prince Edward Island.

Outtakes, you say? No, there are no outtakes when talking about super furry alpacas.

curious alpaca

curous alpaca

Grizwald the llama and Janet Ogilvie.
Okay, this one is a llama, not an alpaca. Grizwald is quite the foodie when it comes to apples–he turns up his snout at mealy red delicious, while he favors the well-balanced sweetness and tartness of golden delicious.

Two-week-old Izzy.

Janet Ogilvie shows us Keswick.

Meet Keswick.

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