Monolith 2009, Day Two: The Mars Volta, Chromeo, Monotonix, Phoenix and more
What it was like: A poppy, musically inoffensive way to spend a half an hour.
Patience Hodgson's peppiness was palpable.
The lead singer for Australia-based quartet the Grates seemed on the constant verge of laughter as she led the group through their set of simplistic, straightforward indie pop.
While Hodgson's bubbly demeanor seemed to spur the crowd to dance and participate, it didn't lend for any profound, striking moments of musical innovation.
Instead, the group's set stuck to two- and three-chord song structures, lackluster lyrics and danceable, clappable rhythms. Songs like "Aw Yeah" stayed safely within these structural confines, but the band seemed to have a lot of fun reveling in the simplicity.
Decked in an odd jacket that recalled some late 19th century European military garb, Hodgson brought an admirable amount of energy to the performance. Veering easily into falsetto stretches during her vocals, Hodgson's stage presence drove the band through its uncomplicated list of tunes.
Verdict: I didn't find myself engaged or impressed by any of the Grates' tunes, but their set played as innocuous pop filler. -- AG
What it was like: City sirens and the screeches of monsters in the sewer.
If people could spontaneously combust, I'd be very concerned for Yonnas Abraham. His eyes pop surreally from his head and he tugs at his shirt as though it's a layer of skin he desperately wants to shed but can't quite. And DJ A-what is all angular motion, his hands moving blindingly across the boards. Yonnas brought fellow MCs F.O.E. and Karma on stage for a couple songs. The four of them together are a colossus of energy, woofing and hollering and getting the early-rising hipsters bobbing awkwardly.
Abraham's got a strange between-song demeanor, over enunciating and dork chuckling to contrast his droopy-eyed street-savvy rapping. Both are entertaining, but I just can't shake the sensation that The Pirate Signal doesn't quite know what it is. Maybe socially conscious and shake-your-ass-rap can work together, but I'm just not sure what they're trying to say.
Verdict: The Pirate Signal left themselves onstage at Monolith even more than they normally do, which made for one hell of an entertaining show. -- KM
What it was like: Seeing a musical magic trick.
I think Rahzel was having some fun with us throughout the show. He had a DJ with him and the DJ definitely brought some expertise in making Rahzel's songs sound better overall. But Rahzel almost doesn't need backup; he's a one-man remix machine. At one point early in the show, Rahzel asked if we wanted him to do the beat for a song and of course we did so he kicked into the beat but supplied the samples and vocals as well. If that wasn't enough, the DJ played part of an old soul song, and then cut it partway through and Rahzel pretended to be put out and said he'd have to do the beat for that song as well. But then he offered to do a remix after his first pass through and he changed the lyrics to have more contemporary socio-cultural references.
Rahzel got the crowd going on a Wu-Tang riff - "Wu Tang clan ain't nuttin' to fuck with" - and then mixed the crowd's chanting along with his own. At the end, Rahzel did a song that sounded like a newer soul song, perhaps self-penned, and went into a crazy Gollum dialogue of "He says he can do the beat and the chorus at the same time, my precious." Then Rahzel proceeded to do so and then offered to do the backing vocals and bass line as well. Absolutely amazing.
Verdict: Rahzel must be considered one of the best vocalists of his generation in terms of sheer creative versatility, and possibly the best beat boxer of all time. -- TM
What It Was Like: Pure insanity
When you have the reputation Monotonix does, people come to your show with certain expectations. And those expectations can make it difficult for a band to deliver. Let me assure you -- despite my astronomical expectations, Monotonix not only delivered, they destroyed. Three hairy-ass Israelis in the kind of short-shorts that were outlawed at the end of the '70s, and nothing else. They put the press photographers on stage and set up in the audience. To kick things off, they ran around, did some wrestling, spewed beer all over each other and the audience and, finally, played some music. The music itself, in all honesty, is almost secondary. It's raw, rough and ready garage rock, something like the stooges used to do, but maybe not quite as sophisticated.
That might sound too impressive, but it was perfect accompaniment to the overall experience. I mean, what the fuck do you expect them to play while in the audience? At one point, some kid in front of me was playing the bass drum, for fuck's sake. You're not going to pulling any Yngwie Malmsteen bullshit while dudes are pounding on your back and screaming in your ear and pulling you into the teeming mass. And frankly, why would you want to?
The singer climbed onto the audience at several points -- standing on dudes' shoulders, or on a bass drum being held by some dudes, or whatever. And occasionally he did some crowd surfing, old-school style. He also stuffed the mic between his ass cheeks. He threw water, spit on the crowd, threw beer, led the crowd in participatory chants and generally went fucking nuts. It was beautiful. The kid in front of me was so inspired he decided to chew up another tab of acid. Awesome.
Verdict: The single greatest piece of rock-and-roll theater I have ever seen. -- Cory Casciato
What it was like: Watching two guys screw around with turntables and a violin.
For the first ten minutes of Beats Antique's set, I felt as if I were at some sort of hipster Moroccan restaurant.
The set started with a sinuous violin line spelled out by David Satori, quickly complemented by steady, suggestive beats cranked out by Tommy Chapel on a turntable. The middle eastern melodies and accompanying beats had barely started when Zoe Jakes emerged, dressed in a full belly dancer get-up and hidden initially by a pair of feather fans. Over several minutes, Jakes shed the fans and gave a full-fledged belly dance, as Chapel incorporated sitar sounds and techno textures.
The dance would be the most visually exciting part of the set. The rest of the performance saw Chapel and Satori fiddling with their tables and equipment, offering straightforward, 4/4 beats, bassier tones and slight shifts in the syncopation.
A considerable crowd gathered to dance in the small space in front of the MadeLoud stage, but the dynamic of the performance remained pretty basic an uninteresting.
Verdict: I have a hard time watching people twist knobs for more than 20 minutes. -- AG