Smile Politely

Monotonix Steal the Headlines During Pygmalion ’08

A pair of Smile Politely music critics were in attendance for the Dan Deacon, Dark Meat, Monotonix (pictured above) billing at the Canopy Club this past Thursday night. Here they share their thoughts on a concert that had plenty of people talking.

TIM HAYDEN: Last week I wrote about two bands, Times New Viking and Monotonix, that I was most looking forward to at this year’s Pygmalion Music Festival. Well, Times New Viking was a little disappointing. Monotonix, however, put on a show greater than I ever could have expected. In close to 20 years of going to concerts, I’ve seen a number of bands that set up on the floor as opposed to the stage, I’ve seen plenty of over-the-top singers, and I’ve seen bands that can engage a crowd; but last Thursday at the Canopy Club, Tel Aviv’s Monotonix earned a spot at the top of my list of great performances. I have never seen a band literally work a room like Monotonix worked that joint.

Monotonix set up on the floor right in front of the stage in the main room of the Canopy. Their equipment consisted of a basic drum kit (high hat, snare, kick drum, ride cymbal, and floor tom), a gnarly Fender amp, guitar, mic, and two really long chords. Neither the drums nor the guitar were mic’d through the PA—just the vocals. The band consisted of three long haired, heavily mustachioed dudes wearing clothes that appeared to be salvaged from a Bavarian thrift shop circa 1974. The singer and guitarist were rocking short shorts and the drummer had a little mini-skirt-like wrap. He was wearing undies. I checked.

The drummer came out first and got a stomping beat going. The guitarist and singer followed shortly thereafter, taking turns working the crowd that had gathered in tight to be able to see. The singer regularly poured water over the drummer and his drums, causing the water to splash up as the drummer hammered on the snare. Then the rock really started. From this point forward I’ll just highlight a few of the more memorable moments of the show and let the footage shot by Doug Hoepker speak for itself.

The first “holy shit” moment came when the singer ran backstage and emerged with a trash can, which he dumped over the drummer’s head. Beer bottles, pop cans, cigarette butts, coffee grounds, used towels, and a really nasty brownish liquid flowed down over the drummer’s body. All the while, the drummer did not miss a beat.

After each song, the singer would pull the carpet that the drum kit was set up on forward, moving the drums closer and closer to the barrier separating the lower half of the floor from the elevated portion in front of the sound booth. Eventually, the entire band hopped the railing—drum kit and all—and ended up playing directly in front of the sound board. The guitar amp remained where it began the night on the lip of the stage, leaving the guitarist’s cord to snake through the crowd to his new location some twenty-five yards away.

Shortly after relocating their makeshift “stage,” the singer snatched an audience member’s beer, removed his shoe, and poured the beer into it before chugging the beer from the shoe. Next he called for the crowd to get as close as possible to the band and crouch down. He gave a little soliloquy as the crowd gathered around, the drummer and guitarist playing quietly. I happened to be right under the singer’s armpit, which offered the aroma of body odor, stale beer, and the remnants of the trashcan. Upon lowering the dynamics, the singer urged the crowd to get freaky on the count of three. The band exploded and the crowd freaked out. It warmed my heart to finally see people cut loose at a show in Champaign-Urbana.

The show wrapped up with the singer picking up the snare while the drummer was playing it and leading both the drummer and the crowd out into the venue’s front lobby and then outside into the chained off beer garden. The guitarist—sans guitar—soon joined with his buddies outside to dance on chairs behind the drummer, who was playing a surf beat. The trio then called it a night. Needless to say, Dark Meat and Dan Deacon had their work cut out for them.

DOUG HOEPKER: Dark Meat are typically accustomed to owning the spotlight at a concert. Their lineup rivals the Arcade Fire’s in numbers, and thanks to various percussion instruments, horns, an organ, and a pair of drummers, Dark Meat create a wall of psych-soul sound. But on this night, the band from Athens was but a footnote. There would be no following the crazy Israelis, Monotonix, who did their best GG Allin impersonation (including a full mooning of the crowd, a dry-humping of one audience member and enough spitting and beer spraying to lubricate the Canopy’s floors). Following the band’s parade through the Canopy, I suppose Dark Meat would have needed to light themselves on fire to upstage Monotonix. Seeing as that would have upset the city fire marshals and probably a few Canopy staffers as well, they did not. Their set was enjoyable and zany, but the performance seemed a bit coaxed in the wake of the more off-the-cuff wildness of Monotonix.

Dan Deacon (above), the headliner, would also need to pull out all stops if he was going to best Monotonix. Deacon is also known for breaking down the fourth wall between audience and performer by setting up on the floor and surrounding himself with a mess of sweaty limbs. But on a night when the opening band did as much (and more), Deacon, who enjoyed Monotonix’s set from the audience, had to be absolutely special. His evening got off on the wrong foot as he and the club’s sound person struggled for twenty-plus minutes attempting to produce sound out of both channels. Once that was accomplished, Deacon invited the audience to take to the stage. That left him engulfed on all sides by people. That, too, didn’t go smoothly. Within ten minutes, the crowd had forced a fissure in the plywood flooring of the stage, and everyone had to swiftly exit stage right (and left).

Deacon’s set was troubled continuously by a sound mix that was at best uneasy on the ears, as all channels sounded as if they were forced well into the red. The muddied sound ruined any hope of hearing the intricate parts of his hardly wholesome electronic music. While the bulk of the dancing crowd didn’t seem to mind, it left those who desired a bit of aural pleasure sadly disappointed. Deacon did engage the crowd with a variety of antics, including clearing enough space for a dance-off and inviting the members of Dark Meat back on stage to add a live, instrumental element to his largely pre-programmed music. But Deacon’s set still ended in flames as audio problems and crowd control forced him to call it quits a bit before scheduled. Dan himself hoisted the white flag mid-song following a near collision with a crowd surfer, ending a disappointing performance.

Still, all things considered, this lineup was a rare treat for Champaign-Urbana, with each of the final three acts freely flying their freak flags. It’s not often that one goes to a concert and witnesses a face-painted tuba player stalking the crowd, a nearly-naked, sweaty, hairy elfin figure climbing the sound booth like King Kong scaling a skyscraper and a full-fledged dance-a-thon in one evening. If the folks behind Pygmalion could bottle that energy and awkward display of emotion and preserve it for a year, then they might not have to worry about setting up shop the same weekend as the Kevin Shields-curated All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival. I think Monotonix might have even been able to upstage My Bloody Valentine on this given night.

Video and photography shot by Doug Hoepker

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