Monotonix: 01.31.2011

There was something ominous about the thick fog that rolled into New Orleans on the evening of January 31, 2011. This, of course, made us all very excited, as few thrills can top the combination of hazardous driving conditions in the Crescent City and a Caddywhompus show at One Eyed Jack’s.  But it didn’t stop there, as Caddywhompus was merely the opener on a bill that also included Why Are We Building Such a Big Ship? and Monotonix, an Israeli garage rock three-piece whose over-the-top performances have grown in legend exponentially over the past two years.

Although it had only been two weeks since we’d last seen Caddywhompus, they again eclipsed their previous show, and the six-man WAWBSABS? – whose highly theatrical live show I often regrettably overlook – provided the perfect soundtrack to the silent film running through the head of band leader Walt McClements.  Then, casually, the members of Monotonix came out one-by-one to set up their equipment on the floor of One Eyed Jacks.

When this band got started, there was simply no stopping. Monotonix was like a cyclone that dissipates right as you are about to run for the hills, only to reform stronger and wilder.  But there was a very strange balance of chaos and command to the whole affair, like a controlled forest burn or a strategic building demolition.  For the life of me, I couldn’t make heads or tails of what was going on in the room: At no point was I able to actually see all three members of the band at the same time as they were constantly emerging from and disappearing into the sweaty, beer covered crowd; and broken amps and shorted-out microphones also prevented me from simultaneously hearing all three of them at once.  But as long as someone was banging on the drums, I knew there was technically still a concert taking place.

After inciting and then stoking the fires of such pandemonium, lead singer Ami Shaley wanted to take a moment to have a serious talk with everyone. This would be made impossible for a variety of reasons – namely the guy next to me who kept calling Shaley a pussy for stopping the music – but he did manage to say that they wrote their first album in New Orleans, and this would be their last tour because he’s 39 and just had a kid.

I suspect that Ami wanted to say something profound about New Orleans (the city that all but unleashed Monotonix on America) or maybe Chicago (home to the label that took them in from the Middle East) but realized that by his own design this couldn’t be done. I would like to have heard what he had to say, as between Chicago and New Orleans, Monotonix has seen the absolute best this hulk of a country has to offer.

Instead, the band launched into a spectacle that topped everything before it: a Horah chair dance that incorporated an extra floor tom turned into a procession that moved the entire band and all their instruments up to One Eyed Jacks’ narrow VIP balcony. Just as it seemed like Shaley was going to dive into the crowd (a fifteen-foot jump), it was over.  All of the sudden, the whirlwind – which caused gallons of spilled drinks and no less than a dozen near-chipped teeth – was gone and the sweaty, hairy band members were calmly walking around the bar drinking water, getting high fives, and hugging as many people as they could.

Though this word is often used for rock n’ roll, in reality it isn’t often that you get to see a concert as “visceral” as this. Drinks get thrown, instruments get thrown, equipment gets unplugged, cues are missed, and the absurdity of the entire spectacle just washes over you like the end of a Paul Verhoven movie; still, somehow everyone walks out alive. I could have used some fire play since that’s part of the band’s legend, but then again there could always be more fire play, and at least one Monotonic has a kid to worry about.

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