Concert Reviews

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

Page 6 of 6

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.

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.

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

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Joe Tone
Contact: Joe Tone