Friday, October 3, 2008

Show Review: Monolith Festival @ Red Rocks, Denver, CO--Day 1 (continued)

Early part of Day 1 review here.

8. Liam Finn
One thing I found myself thinking during certain acts on the indoor stages was "Why are they down here in such tiny rooms if you know the band will attract a big crowd?" Space probably, and a desire to keep stages within easy distance from each other so that they're centrally located yet far enough apart so that sounds don't bleed into each other. Which makes sense. But that sort of calm logic doesn't register when you're a sardine in a million degree room. The first time I found myself thinking this was during Liam Finn.

Liam Finn was playing on the WOXY.com stage, the stage area space that also doubled as a hallway to the other parts of the visitor's center, including the Rock Room Stage (which was within a proper room with well, rocks, hence the name). So when that hallway area got really crowded, it made things difficult for the folks trying to watch the show onstage because there was always a stream of folks trying to move past you and get through (a feat hard for them as well). (This, in fact, did become a problem in that area during The Presets set, as well as the next night during Does it Offend You Yeah?). All 5'5 of me was stuck in the back behind every tall guy who came to Monolith I think, so the only thing I took from the Liam Finn show was that a) his sound is way more rock than the quiet and vastly different sample tracks I’d heard, and b) his female cohort, whose voice I initially liked, began screaming like Yoko doing Japanese hetai but worse, which I did not like.

9. A Place to Bury Strangers
You ever listen to a band’s recorded stuff and think “Eh,” but then you see them live and it’s “Ahhh, NOW I see what the fuss is about”? I call this “The Replacements Factor,” because if you just heard the Mats on record, typically, you liked them ok. But if you saw their live show, you'd, typically, become a full blown convert for time and eternity because their live shows were amazing, so unscripted and spontaneous. The Mats had an essence, that incredible “it” factor, which could just never be captured properly in the sterility of a recording studio. And be it a night when they were *on,* or a night they were a ramshackle shambles, it was always just, well, pure.

This is what happened when I saw APTBS. I'd heard one track of theirs but only had them listed as a "maybe if I'm in the area" (read: not awful but not great) band to catch that day. And I'd only wound up in there because I tagged along with Matt. (Big ups to Matt!)

My first impression of APTBS was that they were decidedly older than anyone else I'd seen thus far and SERIOUSLY FUCKING LOUD. Like put your head in a bell and beat the outside with a hammer loud. The organizers probably kept these guys inside for fear they'd start a landslide outside. And there were only three of them!

Initially, there were no stage lights, almost like "lights, our bad asses don't need no stinkin lights!" (so the only reason I snagged any photos at all was to use the "forbidden" flash). As the band got more and more into what they were playing, a quick glance out to the faces of the audience convinced me that I wasn't alone in feeling like what we were seeing something very different from everything else that day; folks were standing as slackjawed as I was. One thing that bands remarked on at Monolith was that the thin air made performing a little more difficult. With the ferocity and intensity that APTBS performed, I was shocked they didn't drop from sheer exhaustion when they were done because when I say they played hard, I mean HARD, like pop your guitar strings and beat up your guitar hard.

Later, I would read they are known as the "loudest band in NYC," and given the number of loud bands in NYC, you might think that's hype. But believe it, cause that moniker totally applies to them. If the spirit of the Ramones and speed and volume of Jesus and Mary Chain had a baby, APTBS would be it, full of piss and vinegar, shredding and feedback. And I’m not normally a fan of that sort of thing (Ramones and Social Distortion aside of course). But for the sheer love of how overwhelming their music was, and sheer tenacity at which each of them played, it was overwhelming in a very good way. I stood there just dumbfounded for most of the set.

Seriously, this set ranked as one of the two best shows I saw over the two days. Incredible. They’re currently on tour so be sure to go see them….just don’t forget your ear plugs.

(More photos from the A Place to Bury Strangers set here.)

Listen: To Fix the Gash in Your Head_A Place to Bury Strangers

10. Vampire Weekend
Holy crap, they aren't robots after all, they realized they should actually look at their audience! Man, all that touring has really paid off.

(More photos from the Vampire Weekend set here.)

Listen: Everywhere (Fleetwood Mac cover)_Vampire Weekend

11. The Night Marchers
I liked what I heard from The Night Marchers' mp3 but live, not so much. Maybe it was coming off the high of A Place to Bury Strangers...maybe it was because I hadn't eaten in 14 hours...but I just wasn't super blown away. The Night Marchers had all the elements I typically like: guitar-driven rock, great backbeat and bass, lead singer very Mike Ness-reminiscent, all snarly and strong jawed like....but it just didn’t wow me. So I dunno what the deal was. But I do plan to check them out again; perhaps they just require being in another state of mind to give them a fair assessment.

(More photos from The Night Marchers set here.)

12. Corey Chisel and the Wandering Sons
I’d really liked what I heard of Corey Chisel beforehand so I raced back down the 230 steps to find that I liked him live just as much. He and his band, the Wandering Sons (although one of the Sons was an awesome female back up singer, Adriel Harris), is music for a Sunday morning, with a paper and a coffee to slowly drink it all in, or for after a breakup during that period when you’re dwelling. At Monolith at least (I couldn’t find band member names sans that of Harris, so I wonder if the players change depending on his needs), Chisel played acoustic, and the Sons were comprised of Harris, who traded keyboard duties with another guy, an electric guitar player, and for a song or two, one of the guys from Band of Horses (they were playing Monolith Day 2).

Corey Chisel’s 6-song EP, Cabin Ghosts came out in July, and I highly recommend it. His is lush Americana music that is forlorn, soft, and heart-shorn with a tinge of blues, and just really, really lovely. And I cannot wait to see him and the Sons again when they’re out wanderin on tour (though hopefully in a bar that’s got warmer winds going through it than Red Rocks in September at twilight heh).

(More photos from Corey Chisel’s set here.)

Listen: Home in the Woods_Cory Chisel

13. Silversun Pickups
Anything and everything good you’ve ever heard about the Pickups’ live show is all true. They are this incredible bar band, great musicians whose playing as a collective is really tight and can burn down amphitheaters as well as bars (and any place else). What do I mean by that? There are plenty of bar bands, but a really good bar band can touch every person in that room in one way or another. And the Pickups brought that feeling to a huge amphitheater setting and seriously make it work. Not an easy task by any means.

Tearing through a set with tracks from “Pikul,” “Carnavas,” and one or two new ones, the Pickups were clearly having a ball onstage; it was obvious they were happy to be playing again (lead singer/guitarist Brian Aubert mentioned they were in the midst of finishing up a new record). Aubert kept pacing the long stage, oftentimes coming right up to the front of the photo pit; had there not been barriers, I do believe he would have waded into the crowd for sure.

Aubert and bassist Nikki Monninger were disarmingly sweet to watch, oftentimes laughing and sporting ear-to-ear grins, like they couldn’t believe folks were so thrilled to see them (and boy were they).

Drummer Christopher Guanlao is, hands down, one of the best drummers I’ve ever watched. (And here’s a question I may ask The Whigs’ Julian Dorio when I interview them next month: do drummers practice playing all nutso in front of mirrors so they can find the coolest way for their hair to fly around?)

How much did I like the Silversun Pickups show at Monolith? I went out the very next day and bought Carnavas if that says anything, and haven’t turned it off since. The Pickups truly really deserve any and all kudos because they’re just that good.

(More photos from the Silversun Pickups set here.)

Listen: Common Reactor live (Paris, 11-17-07)_Silversun Pickups

14. Devotchka
Beautiful is an adjective I find I wrote down a bunch in my notes on Devotchka’s set at Monolith. Even in a place the size of Red Rocks, on a stage as big as the main stage where Devotchka played at Red Rocks, their live show was so engaging they made it feel like they were playing somewhere very intimate and personalized. And though the temperature had dropped and a cold rain started drizzling just before their set started, it somehow added to that intimacy, like some weird modern version of “Casablanca.” I’m sure playing such a unique place for a hometown crowd (Devotchka hails from Denver) had a lot to do with that. It was something very lovely to witness.

There was no aerialist this time, (probably because she’d have frozen to death), but that was ok because it allowed the focus to stay on the band and their talents (Tom Hagerman is always exciting to watch because every time you blink, he’s playing a different instrument). Another neat thing was these black and white "home movies" that played between certain songs on the Jumbotron screens. Given how much the little kid in one of them looked like lead singer/guitarist Nick Ulta, I wondered if they weren't real ones of his family.

I could go on and on about how incredible and amazing Devotchka was at Monolith (“Queen of the Surface Streets” damn near brought me to tears), but then, their live show is always an experience. Bravo to the festival organizers for closing the first night of the unique festival with these hometown heroes.

(More photos from the Devotchka set here.)

Listen: Venus in Furs (VU cover live)_Devotchka

Up next...Day 2, including The Whigs, The Airborne Toxic Event, CSS, Sharon Jones, and TV on the Radio.

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