See more photos of the bands at westword.com/slideshow.
Is this thing on?
We're live from Red Rocks for Day One of Year Three of Monolith, the indie-hipster-Urban-Outfitted-neon-fest that marks the end of the Colorado music-festival season. The lovely promotional folks at Madison House have moved the media tent from the bottom of the hill to the top, which means two things are different this year than last year:
1. It doesn't smell like poop 2. The ice cream man isn't here.
You take with the good with the bad, in music and in covering it, which we're doing all weekend. Starting now:
The Generationals, 12:20 p.m.
What it was like: The little ride with no line at the amusement park you want to stay on forever.
The fresh-faced Generationals have your OJ right here, your welcome-to-Monolith warbles and bleats. The cozy crowd wiggled appreciatively while the New Orleans quartet played pure pop candy. They've got the blonde dude with the high voice and the dark-haired guy in a dark sweater singing low. The drummer, she bopped along and wore an up-do and the keyboardist shook a little in her yellow dress.
Verdict: Yes, please. -- Kiernan Maletsky
The Depreciation Guild, 12:30 p.m.
Eric Syl Grunesien
What it was like: Jesus and Mary Chain on a forgiving day
I could hear the "Be My Baby" drums from across Monolith and the huge vocal floating up the mountain. The three wiry scenesters of Depreciation Guild seemed genuinely thankful to be here. And why not? They cracked open the biggest stage in the West with some big, awesome, ominous music on a day to match. I'd have liked the feedback to cut a little more, but that might just have been the mix. Either way, the electronic track was jaw-chattering, and the pair of guitars swirled and scraped. Add some arena drums and that fluid vocal and the band achieved a sound I'd describe as pretty if that didn't make them sound like wussies. They're not.
Verdict: It's been done before, but what hasn't? This band is awesome. -- KM
Autovaughn, 1 p.m.
Roadside Graves, 1 p.m.
Eric Syl Grunesien
What it was like: A hootenanny in the rain.
I arrived a bit late for the Roadside Graves' set at the humbly sized Madeloud Stage, but as the septet rolled out their final selection of songs under a light sprinkle of rain, it was clear I hadn't missed any of their energy.
The New Jersey-based ensemble made the most of the small stage and the limited space, offering heartfelt vocals, expansive piano lines and insistent, driving acoustic guitar chords. Even in the cramped setting at the top of the first set of stairs coming into the amphitheater, the group made the performance seem expansive and the sound come off as grandiose.
Summoning cues from American roots and folk music, the group successfully complemented their musical act with a knack for getting the crowd engaged. For the final number, the band members descended from the stage and mingled with the audience, encouraging sing-alongs and exhorting participation.
Even with the chilly weather, and even with the early hour, the band managed to envoke American folk traditions to make their act engaging and compelling.
Verdict: The Roadside Graves' camp-meeting appeal made for an energetic and enthusiastic start to the festival. -- A.H. Goldstein
Stars of Track and Field
What it was like: What would happen if a bunch of kids who never struggled to find sex as teenagers started an emo band.
I bet these guys' favorite band ever - the best band, I bet they'd tell you - is Stars of Track and Field. The guitarist might as well have been flexing over there, wearing an ironic shirt with a penis reference on it. And I thought the drummer might start crying, right there in the middle of the song. As for the singer, he was wearing a tool's uniform (scarf, t-shirt, the sunglasses from True Romance and white jeans) and struck me as someone without anything interesting to say.
They bled U2 chords and held every vowel like they were doing it for a cause. No one felt like picking up a bass, apparently, so they kept a track farting out low notes to round out their training-wheels arena sound.
Verdict: Self-important, bombastic in the worst way. And boring. -- KM
Gregory Alan Isakov, 1:30 p.m.
Eric Syl Grunesien
The Antlers, 1:40 p.m.
Eric Syl Grunesien
What it was like: The weather.
No, not crappy - cold and gray, crystalline lines of melody and glorious grumbling feedback. They write compositions, not songs, and they're aimed at the pit of your stomach. The weather favors the WOXY stage, where it's warm and dry, but Antlers could have packed that place anyway. As it was, all the casual observer could do was stand by the doorway and catch glimpses of the bobbing head of the delicate singer. There was a pause for equipment malfunction but it was swiftly solved. This Monolith crew is a well-oiled machine.
Verdict: A pleasant band at the right time, but I wouldn't buy the album. -- KM
Speakeasy Tiger, 2 p.m.
What it was like: Reliving the flair and sass of the best female vocalists from the '80s in a contemporary setting.
It's not hard to peg down Kyle Simmons' influences.
For that matter, it's not too difficult to trace the musical roots for the rest of Speakeasy Tiger. Simmons' energetic, soaring vocals fall comfortably into the tradition of well know pop divas from the '80s, and the band's use of heavy synth cues and driving, syncopated guitar summon similar pop precedents from 25 years ago.
The tribute worked well in a live setting. Simmons' determined, energetic vocals recalled the soaring vocal work of acts like Pat Benetar and Bonnie Tyler, while Pete Schmidt's furious attack on the keytar and guitarist Tavis Alley's use of open-stringed riffs offered catchy, poppy moments.
The nostalgic musical cues weren't lost on the crowd. A good portion of the audience in the front tiers seemed well acquainted with the material from the album The Public, and most of the crowd seemed more than willing to clap along and sing along at Simmons' urging.
Simmons' performance did suffer from a few moments of vocal weakness, but the band's overall enthusiasm and insistence seemed to make up for the occasional miscues.
Verdict: For me, the nostalgia for '80s musical aesthetics seems a bit played out, but Speakeasy Tiger managed to make up for the familiarity of it with their energy and their rapport with the crowd. -- AG
Avi Buffalo, 2 p.m.
Eric Syl Grunesien
What it was like: A spring day in a woodland meadow.
You know Blake Sennett, the weird little guy from Rilo Kiley? Well, take him and add an endearing dollop of innocence and some post-punk guitar stylings and you've got Avi Buffalo. They've got gentle eyes, all of them, and they radiate warmth. Maybe that's just how it goes for people from Long Beach. They play sighs of happiness, friendly pop songs made from round tones and wavering vocals and tribal drums. A few fans nodded contentedly in front of the most remote stage at Monolith.
Verdict: There's so much of this going on right now (see: Wye Oak, Bon Iver, even Grizzly Bear somewhat) but I have room in my heart for Avi Buffalo. -- KM
Lydia, 2:20 p.m.
What it was like: Geddy Lee fronting an indie rock band.
A few songs into Lyidia's set, the girl standing next to me said, "I love his voice," referring to Leighton Antelman, the Arizona-based indie rock band's frontman. While the guy did have some strong pipes, although a bit nasally a la a young Geddy Lee, he didn't quite inspire the same sentiment in yours truly. But I was probably in the minority as most of the people around me were singing along to quite a few songs of the band's set, which was heavy on tunes from its latest album, Illuminate, released last year on the Low Altitude imprint.
There were some high points, like when Antelman teamed with keyboardist Mindy White for dual vocals on a few cuts, especially on the ballad "All I See" and on the final song. Just before the band launched into a solid version of "One More Day," Antelman said the band will start working on a new album near the end of the year.
Verdict: While the music was solid, the vocals took some getting used to. -- Jon Solomon
Thao with the Get Down Stay Down, 2:30 p.m.
What it was like: Seeing a small club act make a successful transition to a larger venue.
Get Down Stay Down frontwoman Thao Nguyen is the first to admit that the trio's plaintive sound is well-suited to the confines of a smaller club.
But the airy expanses of Red Rocks' main stage didn't interfere with the band's basic appeal during their Monolith appearance. Instead, the Get Down Stay Down - supplemented by the presence of a guest keyboard player - made the forum's open spaces seem more confined and intimate.
The effect came largely from Nguyen's sheer presence and personality. With her large, F-hold guitar, Nguyen filled the stage with her emotional vocals and her frantic, frenetic onstage body language. Alternating between understated, urging tones and strident, insistent singin, Nguyen struck a compelling musical balance.
What's more, her guitar work presented a hybrid of flat picking and finger picking, a blend that made the patterns she worked up and down the neck all the more unique. With backup instrumentation that included shakers, suggestive bass lines and even a spate of beat boxing from Nguyen, the appearance made for moment of dreamy musical musings.
The effect was just as engaging as it would have been at the hi-dive.
Verdict: I'd only seen the band before in smaller clubs, but the GDSD's set on the main stage revealed a strength for bigger stages. -- AG
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, 3 p.m.
What It Was Like: A big-band hippie-hipster soul extravaganza.
Looking at Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros before the show started, it was hard to know what to expect. With ten people on stage dressed in a weird hodgepodge of hippie and hipster fashion, a collection of instruments that includes everything from an accordion to midi controllers hooked to god knows what and a crazy-bearded, tight-pantsed, high-energy frontman, it could have been anything -- well, it was obviously not a power-pop trio. Once they started playing it turned out to be the most incredible collision of retro soul, oldies rock, tribal drums, reggae groove and the kitchen sink imaginable. Sounds like a mess, right? It wasn't. Anything but. Everything congealed into beautifully exuberant blasts of ass-shaking brilliance. The crowd was jumping up and down, the mood was incredible and they found at least one new fan -- me, in case that wasn't obvious. And Edward Sharpe? that guy can fucking sing -- he belted it out in a way that most singers don't even try, and he made it look easy.
Verdict: Blues Brothers soundtrack + (Flaming Lips - confetti cannons) X incredible singer = awesome. -- Cory Casciato
Danielle Ate the Sandwich, 3 p.m.
Eric Syl Grunesien
What it was like: Storytime with your funniest friend.
Danielle was heavy on the banter and heavier on the sarcasm, greeting her friends in the crowd and making eyes at dancing dudes and demanding feather headdresses. The mockery of herself and everyone else was so prominent it distracted from her music a few times - a line she always flirts with but rarely crosses. The bright lights of Monolith certainly didn't send her into a shell - even her vocal delivery was brazen. Maybe it was the presence of her increasingly confident bass player, Dennis (who she introduced as her parole officer), but Danielle was in a jazzy singing mood, landing hard on consonants and tossing her tone in every direction. She said she hates the "Rich Girl" cover after she finished playing it, but me and everyone else spilling beyond the confines of the low-capacity Madeloud.com stage still got a hell of a kick out of it.
Verdict: I had almost as much fun as she did. Almost. -- KM
These United States, 3 p.m.
Eric Syl Grunesien
What It Was Like: Seeing a rock and roll band having a lot of fun.
Never having seen this band before, I didn't know what to expect, as I liked but didn't love what little I had heard from the act previously. Oftentimes a 5-piece will not have a well-executed separation of sounds and musical duties in the songwriting, but the States didn't have that problem. The material might have been less impressive if not for the execution, because there sure are plenty of countrified rock bands out there. But the conviction and raw energy and charisma the States exuded was impressive. It seemed obvious to me that the songs were well crafted and polished in the writing, but these guys played with such enthusiasm that not in a single moment did they sound stilted or, really, like an act. Meaning there was no schtick.
Even a song like "Honor Amongst Thieves," which I had honestly glossed over on previous listens, became powerfully fun anthem. There was more than a little of southern power pop in the States' sound, but instead of a self-conscious appropriation of an aesthetic, this quintet played a set that in my mind established them one of the next steps in the evolution of that tradition.
Verdict: If These United States put out an album that captureed the exuberance and instant likeability of its live shows, it would go far. -- Tom Murphy
Frightened Rabbit, 3:30 p.m.
What It Was Like: Remember U2? Coldplay? These guys sure do.
It's hard not to like Frightened Rabbit if you like rock and roll. And I do, I really do like rock and roll. But I also really like bands that do something new, or at least newish, and Frightened Rabbit? Not so much. It was all passionate, soaring, very well executed rock, drawing heavily on the U2 school of music. Ringing guitar lines, powerful beat salted with frequent tom rolls, emotive vocals. Here's the deal with this kind of music -- if it's the first time you've heard it, it's the Most.Important.Thing. If you've fallen in love to it or had your heart broken to it, it will become an integral part of your soul. But I have heard a dozen great bands like this, and none of their songs have really dented my consciousness so it all just kind of washed over me. It's not that they aren't good -- they obviously are. It's just that they aren't special.
Verdict: Musical comfort food -- meatloaf (the food, not the guy) rendered as song. -- CC
Woodhands, 3:40 p.m.
Eric Syl Grunesien
What it was like: A really, really crowded house party.
I had to take certain things on faith during the Woodhands performance in the cramped confines of the Radius Earphones Stage.
For example, from the research I'd done on the group beforehand, and from the sounds coming from the front of the room, it was safe to say the band was a duo. Dan Werb handled the synths and vocals, while Paul Banwatt handled the drums.
I had to trust the sound for the personnel assessment, however, as the room was so crowded it was difficult to move past the back of the room, much less get a good look at the front of the stage.
Maybe it was the pounding rain that drove the masses indoors, but it could have just as easily been the catchy synth lines, brash vocals and rich, dense drumming from the stage that served as a magnet.
For all the inherent simplicity of the music, the duo managed to invest the sound with plenty of nuance and subtlety, an element that I find rare in much dance and electronica. The Toronto-based duo filled the room with their minimal crew, and if I hadn't known the band was a duo, I would have assumed there was another instrument in the mix.
Unfortunately, the sensation of being crammed against a horde of wet, gyrating fans subtracted slightly from the experience.
Verdict: The set yielded plenty of noteworthy, danceable moments, but the sheer size of the crowd subtracted from the show. I'd like to see Woodhands under calmer circumstances. -- AG
Wendy Darling, 4 p.m.
What it was like: Getting energized despite the sapping effect of chilling rain.
I was ready to be unimpressed.
Standing in the cold, steady drizzle for twenty minutes waiting for Wendy Darling to start their set was enough to sap my anticipation, but the group's warm vocal blends and flair for multi-instrumentation brought me out of my funk fairly quickly.
Frontwoman Cori Rush played a big part in drawing from my chilled state of discomfort and getting me to dance. Switching between stints on bass and harmonium for select songs, Rush's inviting, entrancing tones served as a glue for the group's wide array of poppy and alt-rock structures. Rush's high, tenor tones found a complement in harmonies provided by guitarist Nate Heller, who also offered stretches of rocking, toe-tapping guitar solos.
Considering the adverse conditions, and considering the small size of the stage, the group drew a considerable crowd. Unlike the venue during Woodhands' set, there was plenty of room to find the front of the stage, jump around and circulate easily.
Even if it was wet and miserable.
Verdict: A poppy, compelling musical treat in adverse outdoor circumstances. -- AG
Pains of Being Pure at Heart, 4 p.m.
Eric Syl Grunesien
What It Was Like: Hearing a band whose name is truth in advertising.
Upon first hearing this band on KEXP in Seattle, I have to admit that it took me back in time to when I first heard bands like the Smiths, Felt and the Stone Roses. Not that Pure at Heart sound as much like the bands of that era as some of its critics would have you believe, but the band's music perfectly captures that rush of hope, possibility and excitement of being young. Pure at Heart also articulated in its performance at times a sense of melancholy that doesn't have to lead to the darkness of depression and of loss without dwelling on tragedy, great or small.
Everyone in the band seemed to be in good spirits, and Peggy commented on how playing that show in that place was kind of a spiritual experience for them. Kip spoke a little between songs in a charmingly awkward way that I know, from having spoken to the guy on the phone and in person, is not an affectation. After opening with an especially strong version of "This Love is Fucking Right!" the group performed most of its debut full-length, as well as a new song called "Higher Than the Stars." It rained during the entire set but no one seemed to mind, and many in the audience seemed to know the words. Not bad for a band whose first album came out this year.
Verdict: This was a remarkable performance that stayed with me the rest of the night. -- TM
The Answering Machine, 4:20 p.m. What it was like: Amped-up art rock.
Sometimes it's a wonderful thing to see a band come out swinging right from the get go. Manchester, England-based art rockers the Answering Machine did just that, and kicked off a bouncy and highly charged set that had the audience clapping right off the bat. Strobe lights pulsating, with drummer Ben Perry riding out a Gang of Four hi-hat beat, Perry powered the infectious tune "Cliffer" with propulsive tom beats throughout the tune while frontman Martin Colclough banged out some biting guitar riffs.
The band kept the energy surging through the next few songs, all from the band's debut album, Another City, Another Sorry -- including "You Should Have Called," which also featured some first-rate vocals from bassist Gemma Evans on the outro. While they slowed down a bit on "Emergency," with Perry playing glockenspiel, they ramped things up again and rode out one of the most sunny sets of a cold and rainy day.
Verdict: Super fun, catchy and bouncy. -- JS
OK Go, 4:45 p.m.
Eric Syl Grunesien
What it was like: Catchy, snappy dance rock.
Frontman Damian Kulash said the last time OK Go was in Denver, the band's bus driver said, "You will get love here." They got some more love from the locals and a fair amount of people who were from out of state, at least according to the screams Kulash got when asked how many people traveled here. What's not to love when you're feeding the folks some catchy, snappy dance rock?
The guys, each dressed in black suits, also gave them two of their more successful tunes; "A Million Ways" early in the set and "Here It Goes Again" near the end. In between the band played two new cuts from its forthcoming album (due in January). Near the end of the set, Kulash said how he felt like a bit of a sissy standing under the "tent" while it was raining. He joked about being electrocuted, but stepped out in the rain with his acoustic guitar and said, "It's time for a love song," launching into "Last Leaf." It was pretty damn poignant, with the guy singing stuff like, "If you should be the last autumn leaf hanging from the tree, I'll still be here, waiting on the breeze to bring you down" while getting rained in the pit of Red Rocks. But to follow that with "It's a Disaster," where Kulash was singing about crashing and burning and "It's an incredible mess but it's all we've got now," well, it was kind of funny.
Verdict: OK Go were better than just OK. -- JS
The Walkmen, 5:30 p.m.
What it was like: Late night at the perfect dive with your friends.
The Walkmen are a rock and roll band. They are cool in demeanor, workmanlike in performance and totally fucking awesome. They wear collars and black jeans like it's a career and know exactly when to fully rock out and when to coolly groove. I want to believe New York manufactures dudes like this, men who watch sports and carry themselves with a brusque swagger and hold their liquor as a matter of course.
Set highlights include all of them. OK, I'll pick favorites: "Canadian Girl," was smooth and beautiful and "The Rat" added a few dozen beats per minute to my pulse. They are wryly observing a cold world and writing songs about its warm spots. Hamilton Leithauser holds the mic deftly and wails teetering highs while Paul Maroon pulls sheets of jangling sound from his guitar. By the end I didn't even care about the cold. Bring that shit on - the Walkmen have me in a fighting mood.
Verdict: Sometimes I seriously wonder if The Walkmen are the best band in the country. This is one of those times. -- KM
Cymbals Eat Guitars, 5:40 p.m.
Eric Syl Grunesien
What it was like: Rivers Cuomo fronting Dinosaur Jr. Well, sort of.
It's clear from listening Cymbal Eat Guitars' debut album, Why There are Mountains, that the guys in four-piece know all about dynamics. It's even more evident when you see them. There was a constant ebb and flow of mellow parts that would blast into explosions of distortion, especially on the set's opener "And the Hazy Sea." One minute frontman Joe D'Agostino might be singing over a more placid section of the song, but once the distortion and the pounding snare kicked in, he'd scream like a madman. Going from one extreme to another was a bit jarring at times, but it worked really well to help shape the band's dynamics. The guys kept the momentum pumping through the second tune, which sounded like Rivers Cuomo sitting in on a Dinosaur Jr. tune, particularly D'Agostino's J. Mascis-esque guitar-playing.
Things slowed down a bit during the first section of "Cold Spring," with drummer Matt Miller, who's played with D'Agostino since high school, pounding out a floor tom-heavy beat a la Velvet Underground. (The band incidentally borrowed its moniker from something Lou Reed said about cymbals eating guitars, which explain the lack of cymbals on the first few VU albums). But a few minutes later, the guys jumped back into the mire, with D'Agostino shouting out the lyrics. Seriously, the dude can scream, and during the last tune, he seemed like he was really his vocal chords a workout.
Verdict: Cymbals might eat guitars in the studio, but on stage they're often no match for a fuzzed out guitar. -- JS
Caitlin Rose, 5:45 p.m.
M. Ward, 6:15 p.m.
Eric Syl Grunesien
What It Was Like: Seeing a modern day version of a classic rock band without it seeming artistically reactionary.
The first thing you notice about an M. Ward show is Ward's smoky, gritty voice. When he engaged the audience, he sounded world-weary but absolutely prepared to throw himself back into the thick of things. Because of that, each melancholy song contained within it a defiant, sepia-toned spirit. M. Ward is not fiery so much as scrappy. Many of the songs were paradoxically introspective and blustery. Throughout the show, I heard echoes of his contemporaries, Rufus Wainwright and Ryan Adams among them.
Seemed to me that Ward's music is about triumph over despair and adversity rather than the surrender or resignation of some of the blues music informing Ward's songwriting. There wasn't a moment in the show where the band did anything less than play its heart out, and even though I was slightly better than lukewarm on the act's material, seeing the live show rendered everything better. To close out the show, Ward and company performed a rousing rendition of "Roll Over Beethoven" in its own style instead of trying to cop to Chuck Berry's inimitable vibe.
Verdict: Not really what I'm into most of the time, but the performance proved adequate to change my mind about the band. -- TM
Thunderheist, 6:20 p.m.
What It Was Like: It's a muthafucking party up in here!
For the first two songs of Thunderheist, I was ready to hate them. The simplistic boom-bap beats and rudimentary synth was grating on my last nerve. Then something funny happened at song three, "Space Cowboy" -- everything clicked, big. The beats didn't get any more complex, but they smoothed out the chop, the synths fell into place and the hot-as-fuck vocalist -- think a less scary Tyra Banks -- hit her stride. Boom! The brain-dead party jams they traffic in aren't the kind of tunes you take home to mom, but they sure sounded good in a hot, sweaty, cramped stage lit by colored strobes. Disco, old-school hip-hop, electro, the synth-pop side of New Wave, all meshed together, chopped into stuttering, lurching beasts and served up with a spitting, vulgar angry vibe by Isis, the rapper/singer. Indie rock kids need to dance too, and this shit got them moving.
Verdict: Dumb as fuck, fun as hell. -- CC
Doom, 7 p.m.
Eric Syl Grunesien
What It Was Like: Seeing a hip-hop legend not live up to the downside of his reputation.
Doom is a notoriously inconsistent performer who has been known to show up incredibly late to shows. None of that was true of this performance. One of Doom's cohorts went on stage first to pump up the audience with the combination of light jabs, jokes and spirited rhetoric about how we were definitely going to get to see one of the best, and during this preamble, Doom periodically spoke from back stage and asked questions of the audience. At one point he informed us he was maybe doing an album with TV On the Radio.
After several minutes, Doom came to the stage and went right into his signature, seemingly endless stream of social commentary, surreal storytelling and clever, sometimes childishly so, wordplay. Most MCs and rappers learn to riff off themselves but Doom proved himself a master of the art. Maybe all the songs he performed were verbatim off an album but they never seemed like it. Accompanying the vocals was a combination of classic funk, R&B and electronic dance music. Many performers acknowledge the audience, some berate and abuse the audience but Doom challenged people in the audience to be more excited about something, anything.
Verdict: A mid-level show from Doom is better than a good show from a lot of people. -- TM
Cotton Jones, 7 p.m.
What it was like: Cornbread and kettle stew cooked up by pretenders from the city.
Good ol' alt-country - making hipsters feel authentic since the early aughts. Unfortunately for Cotton Jones, we've mostly moved on. It's not their fault, obviously, but I can only stomach so much twang at this point. No matter how restrained, no matter how progressive the underlying sensibilities. They're talented songwriters, no doubt about that, and very good musicians. They've got the country harmonies working and enough down-home goodness to keep you warm on a winter night. But they reference Yo La Tengo on their myspace, which confirms my suspicion that they're putting on. There are too many earnest alt-country acts out there - who needs method acting New Englanders?
Verdict: Very nice. Yawn. -- KM
Boulder Acoustic Society, 7:15 p.m. What it was like: Gypsy bluesy backwoods hootenanny of sorts.
Near the end of Boulder Acoustic Society's brilliant set, frontman and accordionist Scott McCormick asked if he could bum a smoke from someone. He looked a bit apprehensive about it, but he also said something about smoking "makes a voice this." Indeed, his pipes were raspy, not quite Tom Waits gruff, but I'd bet these guys have give Franks Wild Years and Rain Dogs a few spins in their day. Sure, the Waits thing was there, but they threw a lot more into the mix, like some gypsy punk, blues and some backwoods grit.
The quartet ran through quite a few cuts from their latest effort, Punchline (which has some very cool packaging with a 3D stereoscope), like the upbeat "We Tried" and the sultry "Slip Baby Slip," which included some outstanding solos from violinist Kailin Yong and McCormick on accordion.
Verdict: Acoustic music with some serious balls. -JS Hollywood Holt, 7:40 p.m.
Hollywood Holt managed to make the security guards look a little uneasy. This is no mean feat, particularly at a sparsely attended stage during a big sleek, festival. Props, dude. His shirt lasted one song, and for the rest of the set he lept around the stage. He may have spent more time in the air than on the ground. Self-satisfied writers like me enjoy comparing musical acts to natural disasters. That doesn't make much sense ever, but I get it with Hollywood. There's no brains, really, just impact. Duck and cover or get swept up.
His music is totally cheap beats, Three Six Mafia ripoffs, and his rhymes are nonstop hype. He doesn't seem to care about the music nearly as much as he cares about getting people fuckin' moving, and he is damn good at that. He is so purely committed to his act, and his conviction is infectious. This music isn't very good. I'm pretty sure about that. So why do I believe?
Verdict: He be on that bullshit. But he said it before I could - it's a great show. -- KM
Girl Talk, 7:45 p.m.
Girl Talk, by Aaron Thackeray
What It Was Like: Your entire record collection engaging in a sweaty, no-holds-barred group grope.
Moments before Girl Talk began, his roadie came on stage and purposefully prepared his gear -- flipping open both laptops and powering them on. It was kind of an odd moment. Then, just as Girl Talk came on it, started raining -- not a great omen. And I don't know that the main stage of a huge festival is the right venue for Girl Talk, but he managed to overcome both remarkably well. Once he started doling out insane mashups and firing confetti cannons, I found myself having fun. The samples were clever and ostentatious, the beats were irresistible and at least three times I said "Oh no, he did NOT just do that," but of course, he did. From classic rock to current pop, heavy metal to hip-hop he brought everything and made it make nice. Can't we all just get along? In Girl talk's world, yes we can.
Verdict: It still would have better in a club. -- CC
Of Montreal, 8:45 p.m
Eric Syl Grunesien
What It Was Like: Sgt. Pepper's Dada Disco House Band.
I've missed three opportunities to see Of Montreal and I was damned if I was going to miss this one. And when the tiger-headed man in the white jacket came on stage to get things going, I was glad I hadn't. Tiger guy set the mood for the set -- it was weird, beautiful and utterly surreal from top to bottom. Concentrating on material from the last four albums, and giving material from Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? the most attention (wisely, since it is their masterpiece), the set delivered killer versions of some of their very best material, from a rocking "Forecast Fascist Future" to the incredible disco-rock closer of "She's a Rejecter." And while they worked through the set -- which did have a few hiccups, but nothing too egregious -- there was a loopy, bizarre setpiece/improv act being played out by dudes in grey, rubber gas masks, red robes and gold crosses, who chased a guy in a loincloth and wig, a girl in a pig mask and staged combats and conversions on stage. Then there were the guys in black bodysuits and glitter-face masks climbing the rigging, the freaky-deaky animations projected behind them ... you know, pretty much your average show.
Verdict: There were minor flaws, but none kept it from being utterly wonderful. -- CC
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, 9:20 p.m.
What it was like: Some sort of harvest ceremony in a Japanese day-glo tribe.
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Go to a Yeah Yeah Yeahs show and spend more than fifteen seconds watching someone other than Karen O. I dare you. I mean, the drummer's worth a glance; he had his platform literally rocking onstage. And Nick Zinner on the guitar has some nice moves - a kick there, a little bob action to go with that anime hair. But oh man is Karen O something else. Lost in the weirdness and affectations is how punk rock this chick is. She's got the sex moans and the yelps and the straight up yelling, but more importantly she's just so in her element, so ambivalent about your approval. She came out wearing a shockingly piecemeal parka thing, which she shed to reveal an equally bizarre cape-esque number. She also had on a leather jacket at one point, a full robe at another. Regardless of costume, she hopped around like a kid and jerked her legs like a rock god and posed like street performer.
This music feels very dated already. It is a marriage of elements in the sort of totally democratic way we were so crazy about at the turn of the millennium. But it's already breaking back down and everyone's gotta be more direct in their reference points, so we've got old-school punks and 80s synth bands and garage rockers but not all three. However, Yeah Yeah Yeahs are better than their place in music history. They have so many songs that are just wonderful music, gripping and intelligent and whatever else you might be looking for. And those songs were on display at Monolith, a reward for the three-quarters capacity who stuck out the shitty weather (heard enough about that yet?). The late crowd sang along to the hits and enjoyed the rest and screamed its approval with every blast of confetti cannon. There was also a huge, inflatable eyeball as a set piece. The roadies rotated it for one song, but it began to drift back prematurely, which is why I got to write the following sentence in my rain-drenched notebook: "The giant eyeball is out of control," which I think should be the title of their next album.
Verdict: Day one in the books, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs wrote a resounding conclusion.