Sunday, September 16, 2007

Monolith Festival Capsule Reviews

Monolith is different from the likes of Coachella, Bonaroo, or Pitchfork in being distinctly songwriter and performer oriented. Half the retail booths on the plaza are for musical instruments, offset printing services for CD covers and posters, and the like. Musicians hang around the terraces as though it was a folk festival, chatting with crowds after a performance. (Matt and Kim were particularly gracious in that respect, as their fan following was huge and they remained generous with their time for hours.) I sure hope Monolith will survive as an extant fest, as they were giving everyone free programs and sampler CDs, and the crowd of 5000 or so wasn't likely to have recouped costs. Sorry I missed Friday, with Decemberists, Cake, Clap Your Hands, but here's some Saturday observations:

[FLASH - Here's some great pictures from Glory Anna Breitweiser and Laurie Scavo. And the Denver Post gave us a great ten-minute slide show from John Moore here.]

Laylights -- A guitar-driven, poppy sound on the Terrace stage that seemed more interesting than the main-stage set of A Verse Unsung.

Via Audio -- A clever and very tight Brooklyn quartet led by the mini-powerhouse Jessica Martins, their new CD is coming out Sept. 25 and is definitely a keeper.

Bob Log III -- Take away all the nonsensical games and songs like "Boob Scotch", and Bob Log III is still one of the finest slide-guitar players you'll ever hear, and when he plays a set, you won't stop smiling.

Forget Cassettes -- Beth Cameron's trio has an odd, swirling, chanting feel, like you've entered some kind of ritual.

The Little Ones -- An LA band that does upbeat, interesting y'alternative that recalls The Jayhawks or maybe even Flying Burrito Brothers.

Meese -- At first listen, you'll think that Patrick Meese and band are just trying to take The Fray's formula of sensitive singer-songwriter with band, but Meese really charts their own territory with falsetto-style vocals.

Margot & the Nuclear So & So's -- I didn't think this band was as compelling as some make them to be, but they do some nice three-part arrangements.

Matt and Kim -- Hey, what can you say, it's MATT AND KIM! And they're playing RED ROCKS! And the sun is out and they're playing between two 1000-foot MONOLITHS! And Matt dances on his keyboards and Kim stands up and dances on her drums, and Matt says their plane must have crashed on the way from Las Vegas, for they are surely dead and in Show Heaven now.

Brian Jonestown Massacre -- I've always had less patience than most with Anton Newcombe because he seems so perennially grumpy (even with his audience, like saying "shut the fuck up" when tuning). Some would call it the punk attitude, I call it arrogance. The 60s channeling sound is nice, but can get boring on long jams. But Newcombe really is a sincere and dedicated guy, and the Monolith set was good.

White Rabbits -- Urban, sophisticated, and dedicated to making perfect sounds forever. I like these guys a lot.

Nathan and Stephen -- The name might lead you to think it was the dreaded singer-songwriter duo, but N&S is actually a raucous nine-piece wild-man show with horns, percussion, and songs that grab your collar and won't let go.

Art Brut -- Eddie was in top form Saturday night, and what with political ranting and a woman bassist, the effect was like a speeded-up 1981-era Gang of Four. Sure, there's so much call-and-response and silliness about pop culture than Art Brut can sound stupid from time to time, but isn't rock and roll all about being stupid?

Hot IQs -- This Denver band may have been the best thing at the whole show. It may have been the drummer, an absolutely gorgeous woman who might have been Filippino or Singaporean, but flailed on the drums like a melodic Adris Hoyos. The bassist was a stolid bushy-headed guy with great harmonies. But their lead singer and guitarist was something else again, like a young Robert DeNiro in Mafia fedora, and every lyric and every movement and every musical arrangement was exactly in place. This band writes three minute masterpieces with hooks that grab you and won't let go.

Spoon -- Spoon has achieved such a level of crispness in Ga Ga Ga Ga and Gimme Fiction that seeing them is like watching a 60s British Invasion band at its peak. And playing at sunset on Red Rocks' main stage certainly helped.

Au Revoir Simone -- This is a three-woman band led by the daughter Nick and Helen Forster of eTown. Imagine a mix of Coco Rosie and The Roches. Keyboard and harmonies galore.

Cloud Cult -- At first I thought the band was too much into that "world music" mode where the violin and cello intersect with the guy's falsetto voice and you think they should be on Windham Hill or something. But CC actually has a variety of song types that makes a set far more interesting than you'd anticipate.

Flaming Lips -- Yes, it's true, Wayne Coyne has perfected "rock showman" beyond anyone, with giant balloons and dancing Santas and cheerleaders and a large semicircular digital broadcast machine (none dare call it a mere screen) and Wayne himself coming out in a Glinda-the-good-witch bubble. In songs where Flaming Lips are specific and satirical, like "Free Radical", no one beats them for situationist absurdity. But my complaint remains the same - when FL starts to meander and Wayne gets too pompous, they sound like Pink Floyd in their overbloated days, which in my mind is not good.

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