Last Night: Monotonix at the Lounge on Elm Street
Better than: Any act that ever wailed at a microphone, strummed a little on the guitar, and called that a show.
In retrospect, it began all too neatly: a fine stream of lighter fluid splashed across the cymbals as the drummer undressed in the corner.
There were other warning signs, too – the deep knee-bends, the wild hair and mustaches, even the placement of the singed drum set, down in the pit with the audience. But Monotonix went about their pre-show routine with such calm that even after all I’d overheard about their reputation for rowdy shows, the Tel Aviv trio's onstage transformation still came as a surprise. They shook that with a fiery opening that washed the drums in flames and launched embers into the crowd.
UPDATE: Slide show after the jump.
From there, the show unfolded as a succession of ridiculous moments, without much to logically string them together. Every so often, guitarist Yonathan Gat would drive into the crowd, guitar neck first, up the stairs and back down again. Establishing one of the night's motifs early on, singer Ami Shalev threw a large trashcan over Haggai Fershtman, who kept on flailing at his drums.
In financial stories lately, reporters talk about the rules changing on Wall Street, how so many were unprepared when the rules suddenly changed on them. Above all, the Monotonix show last night was about changing rules - moving the drums and playing upstairs, abandoning the drums and playing in the packed bathroom with the lights off, climbing the rafters to finish a song upside down.
Looking around the audience, I saw excitement at the great performance, and just below the surface, terror at the potential for destruction. Stick to the side and try to sip your Lone Star, and you’d be ducking elbows before long. Try to keep up with Gat or Shalev in the crowd, and odds are, one of them's about to land on your head.
A few more moments stick with me: Shalev on the floor in the corner, spread-eagled and screaming in red short-shorts and multi-color striped knee-high socks; Fershtman throwing his head back with laughter as audience members pelt him with beer cans; a drum crowd-surfing toward the back of the club, while a girl crawls on the floor, looking for a lost ring which, amazingly, she finds. As the show ended, the band crashed back to reality quickly, soaked with sweat and breathing hard as they took down the drums and manned the merch table. The whole thing lasted about 45 minutes.
The show was completely good-natured as long as you could keep up with the communal chaos. As Pete hinted at earlier here, the band didn't exactly distinguish itself with musical ability, but again, the performance didn't leave much room for a pointed critique. Listening to them this morning in the safety of my own home, the driving guitars and the swing in Shalev's vocals come through better - though obviously, live is the way to see these guys.
Critic's Notebook: Monotonix was definitely not an act you'd like to follow, it was a good night for showmanship, from Rival Gang's bouncing among the growing audience to the Denton duo Best Fwends' act flanked by huge inflatable light-up demons. El Paso Hot Button, a one-man screaming troubadour act with Mickey Reece on drums, guitar, tambourine and vocals all at once.