7. The Whigs
They put The Whigs in that little hallway room. The ear splitting, rocktastic, popular Whigs in a room that doubles as a hallway, a mind-boggling move to say the least. It sounds stupid, but after seeing these guys at SXSW 2008, I really wanted to get a shot of Julian Dorio's hair flying around while playing here at Monolith....something about it just makes me laugh, probably because it reminds me of Animal on the Muppets (yes, I know, I'm a dork.) The lighting wasn't stellar in this room but I think I scored one or two good ones of both Dorio as well as the group as a whole.
Playing-wise they were, as usual, fucking awesome. But the immense crowd, coupled with the inability for the security people to keep space in front for the camera folks to shoot without being inundated by said crowd, made me way too claustrophobic. Which bummed me out as The Whigs were one of the groups I was really psyched to see again live.
I did get a few minutes in with lead singer/guitarist Parker Gispert afterwards. He said they're doing more east coast dates and will be hitting DC this fall (with the Kings of Leon in November at DAR; DAR, well you can't win em all).
8. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
Ruling the mainstage in the late afternoon was Sharon Jones and her Dap Kings. I'd heard she is a full on cyclone live and that was no joke.
Her sound of soul and funk harkens one back to an earlier time in pop music history when girl groups ruled and bouffant hairdos were the rage, when Tina Turner danced her ass off in that macramé dress while belting out a song. Jones absolutely knows how to hold a crowd in her hand.
Dancing barefoot onstage, pulling this crazy caped crusader named TRL out of the crowd for some onstage teaching about how a woman just wants a man to "Be Easy" (though we were all convinced that dancing with Sharon Jones is about as close as TRL would ever want a woman to get to him)...
...having women come up on stage to dance with her, and ending with a show-stopping, heart-pounding, ass-shakin, body-quakin version of James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," she was literally all over the place. The center of the cyclone had settled right over us and we were all happy to be swept up into the inward spiraling wind that was Sharon Jones. She is, by far, the hardest working woman in showbiz.
9. The Airborne Toxic Event
Racing back up the 230 stairs, I found a bit of a traffic jam trying to get to the inside stages. Apparently, the organizers hadn't anticipated the draw of the some of these inside bands like the Presets and Does it Offend You Yeah? (Dee captures the mayhem well here). In order to slow the flow, they closed off one of the two entrances, allowing one person in when one person left the inside stage hallway; not both entrances mind you, just the one, which didn't make much sense. So I had to do some fast talking and thankfully, a very nice employee led me through the kitchen to the side room where they were playing. (whew!)
By now, I'm sure you’ve heard about that awful Pitchfork review of Airborne's debut record and Airborne's spirited response. After I'd read the review, I emailed lead singer Mikel Jollet and said you should invite the guy to a show as he obviously has never seen y'all live. Now, if you’ve been reading my site here at all, you know I've interviewed The Airborne Toxic Event, I’ve reviewed them, I’ve photographed them...I’m a fan. But remember that Replacements Factor I spoke of ? I think Airborne sorta has that too. Their record is good, don't get me wrong, but had I heard their record before seeing them live, I honestly don’t know if I would have been quite as knocked out by them. That stunning "thing" that they have, like the Mats, A Place to Bury Strangers, and countless others, that thing about them that seems to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, that's so completely obvious when you see them on the stage. You get glimpses of it in what you hear from the scripted confines of a studio booth and mixing board, but seeing them live is when you forget to breathe. (In my humble opinion of course...)
And Monolith was no exception. It was a fantastic set even though the entire band was all terribly ill with the flu. Drummer Daren Taylor told me afterward, "I'm exhausted, but I played my ass off." Yes, yes he was, and yes, yes he did.
That's because Airborne is a band that just can’t let themselves play a bad show, even being so sick they could barely remain standing (bassist Noah Harmon, in fact, sat down on the rocks in back of the stage at one point). The author of that Pitchfork review, Ian Cohen, claimed the band is about market research and does what they do according to a "formula" so to speak. Though Cohen would probably somehow consider playing deathly ill as part of that "formula," I bet everyone who was at their show at Monolith saw it for what it really was, a band obsessively dedicated to their audience, their performance, and their music.
Plus, I mean seriously, how beautifully does lead guitarist Steven Chen photograph? You just cannot shoot a bad photo of this guy...
10. TV on the Radio
And while we're on the topic of dedication...there had been rumors all day that TVOTR may not make their evening slot but no one knew why. Around their show time on the mainstage, the photo pit was as jammed full as the crowd behind us in anticipation. Finally, 15 minutes past their scheduled start time, the announcer came out to tell us the story: Seems the band was in Salt Lake City at 11 am, gearing up to head to Red Rocks, but the bus broke down. Sunday, Salt Lake City, big bus=trouble finding the right parts. By about 2 pm though, they apparently said fuck it, found a bunch of rental cars, and literally broke many speed limits to get to Red Rocks a mere 15 minutes late. Festival organizers thought they wouldn't make it as TVOTR checked in with their location progress throughout the day, but the band was certain they would (the organizers had obviously never driven with NY-drivers apparently, heh).
Needless to say, when TVOTR hit the stage, the place, as well as the band, went bananas. Lead singer Tunde Adebimpe never stopped moving the entire show, alternating between pogoing and dancing (and damn, can the man dance!).
They're out doing a few shows supporting the super incredible Dear Science. It's funky, it's thrash, it's rock, all laced with interesting pop sensibilities. This record is, and absolutely deserves to be, in everyone's top 10 lists for 2008. This is definitely a group you MUST check out live.
11. CSS(Cansei de Ser Sexy)
I figured CSS would be a big draw so for the last time over my two days at Red Rocks, I trucked back up the 230 stairs (total stairs climbed over 48 hours: 986875675454). But in doing so, I had to miss the back end of the TVOTR show, which was a drag. Even more of a drag because CSS was 15 minutes late in starting. My guess? CSS lead singer Lovefoxxx had to finish tying the last garbage bag piece to her jacket.
"Hyper" is an understated adjective for Portugal's CSS. But so is "addicting," shake your ass madly," and "listen on repeat." Lead singer Lovefoxxx is quite the Portugese Beyonce, dancing, hair tossin, crowd-flirting up a storm, all the while singing her ass off. These guys were definitely worth waiting around for....
At this point, I was seriously shivering (a mile above sea level gets damn cold at night), and I had no interest in seeing two French guys dj on the mainstage (yes, it was Justice. No, I didn't need to see dj'ing done live), so I called it a night.
What a couple of days...Red Rocks was incredible. I heard a rumor that Monolith lost money and it's possible it won't happen again, which would be a shame. It's got potential, true potential, so I hope they can make it work. The lineup was a really interesting collection of bands, all different and indie. The surroundings were amazing. And sure, there were a few issues (the indoor stage setup, security not always understanding the setup for photographers) but overall, things were smooth, and it was, most importantly, fun. The Monolith Festival did what a good music festival should do, have enough bigger name acts to draw folks sprinkled with lots of smaller groups that you'll walk away happy to have discovered. I know I'll definitely go again next year, if only to shoot more of the incredible landscape.