I Spent the entire weekend at Red Rocks, for the 2008 edition of the Monolith Festival, and boy are arms tired (rimshot!).
It's not often when you can see top flite bands as varied as TV on the Radio, DeVotchKa, Atmosphere, Vampire Weekend, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, and Band of Horses, all in one weekend, in such a visually striking environment. Frankly, I'm more drawn to some of the smaller up and coming bands, and the real highlights for me this past weekend were:
The Muslims - A sorta pop-garage rock combo out of San Diego, who specialize in crisp rockers, and who pulled a most unlikely Spaceman 3 cover outta their ass. Now if I could just actually get my hands on their CD, which may have only been a bonus to their vinyl LP which is not nationally distributed (as far as I know).
A Place to Bury Strangers - What can I say about this band? They were an absolute total unadulterated sonic assault of epic proportions. I really didn't know a guitar could keep feeding back for four minutes --- without even any strings left on it. They're on tour and playing a small club show at Denver's Larimer Lounge next month. I, for one, can't wait.
The Night Marchers - Balls out driving rock and roll, and with hygeine and a pedigree to boot. Pretty much legendary dudes from pretty much legendary bands (Rocket From the Crypt, Hot Snakes, Delta 72, etc.)
Dressy Bessy - Denver's own rock and roll sweethearts. They've got a new album coming out tomorrow, and have grown to a five piece, but most of their show features favorites from their last couple of records. Anyway, these guys can do no wrong in my book, and getting to see them play on the main stage was a joyous occasion. They're on tour for the next couple of months, and for all you NYC poker bloggers, they're at Arlene's Grocery on Thursday, September 25th. (Much better than donking Riverchasers, right?)
Port O'Brien - I have to admit, I'd never even heard of this band prior to this past weekend, much less heard their music. Still, this band left the audience awash in such joyous feelings with their delightful songs. They actually reminded me just a bit of Danielson, but much more in spirit than in sound.
Snowden - Probably some of the sickest bass playing I've seen in ages. I guess folks call them post-punk, which I suppose I can agree with. They actually remind me a bit more of Mission of Burma; their record strikes me as much more danceable. At any rate, their live set was more angst-fueled, and just huge.
Moonspeed - When all is said and done, I think the band that blew me away more than any other this weekend, is in fact one of Denver's own, and a band I'd never been fortunate enough to see previous to this. Moonspeed is a virtual Denver indie all star collective, made up of players from bands past and present such as Bright Channel, Monofog, and Moccasin. As I understand it, Moonspeed was until recently pretty much a songwriting outlet for Jeff Suthers, and had really pretty much not played out, or had even taken on any kind of fixed form. That seems to be changing, as Monolith was at least their 2nd or 3rd show in the past couple of months. There's a CD in the works, and I really hope everyone takes the opportunity to listen to their lush and layered psychedelia. Not many can pull off a 10-piece, with multiple drummers and even melodica, and not have it come off as little more than a jumbled mess. Moonspeed seems to be one of the very few who can, as every ingredient seems to have found its obvious place. I would suggest them for those who are fans of old school shoegaze and west coast psych pop in equal measure.
There were certainly other acts I enjoyed. Unfortunately, the expected horrendous Broncos home game traffic on Sunday led me to take a different path to Red Rocks, and I ran into even more horrendous lane closures in Arvada, and ran horribly with regard to traffic lights. Thus, I missed all but the final song of The Rosewood Thieves, and that of Pomegranates (they played at the same time on two different stages), these were two of the bands I was most looking forward to checking out.
The above notwithstanding, there's a worrisome aspect of Monolith that bears mentioning. First off, the brief negative. Judging from attendance, and from a short conversation with one of the curators, I suspect and fear there may not be a 2009 Monolith Festival, which would be most unfortunate. Never before have so many of the more interesting bands on the indie scene gathered at such a uniquely beautiful place to hold a festival as this. (Trust me, the webcam shot looks far more dramatic during a show.) I would dearly hate for this to end, as the event truly enriches the Colorado music community. Seriously, how much does adding a fourth Dave Matthews Band show to the schedule actually add to anything but the seriously deep-pocketed AEGLive's coffers, whereas an event such as Monolith helps to put Denver on the national music map.
The problem is, once you add up the cost of that many bands on the top indie tiers, you've pretty much spent about as much as you would hiring a band like Foo Fighters for a night, if not more. And that means you need to sell out the bowl, and thus far, that ain't happening. The biggest crowd I saw was this weekend was for TV on the Radio, and even so, I don't think there were more than about 5,200 people or so. Still, I'd like to see Monolith given another couple of years to build the critical mass it needs to thrive, because the event, by its very existence, simply contributes so much to the growing culture of music. I really hope the current corporate sponsors (Esurance, Dell, Southwest Airlines, Qdoba Mexican Grill, New Belgium Brewery, and several smaller entities) are willing to stay on, and that the promoters can bring in a perhaps a couple more in the future.
I recognize how much tougher it can be to bring in dollars in a declining economy, but as long as there is some perceived value in subsidizing events at all, Monolith is an event worth being a part of.
Okay, I've rambled long enough -- I promise my next post will actually include some poker.