Concert Reviews

Monolith 2009, Day One: Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Girl Talk, Of Montreal, the Walkmen and more

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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.

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 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.

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

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Joe Tone
Contact: Joe Tone