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Monolith Festival @ Red Rocks – day one

at Red Rocks Amphitheater – September 14, 2007

by Mystik Spiral 

This summer’s highly anticipated Monolith Festival was the first indie-rock fest ever held at Red Rocks, and to my knowledge, the largest we’ve ever had here in Colorado – over 60 bands on five stages at (arguably) the most beautiful venue in the United States.  Months of speculation and growing excitement paid off in a big way over the weekend with an incredible two days of music.  The festival organization and execution was really first-rate; outside of a few sound problems from the main stage on Friday, things ran very smoothly.

I’d never been to a multi-stage festival before Monolith, and I admit I was curious as to where they were going to pack five stages into the venue.  The stage layout turned out to be quite brilliant – even if it did involve a lot of stair climbing.  I managed to hit at least one set at each of the five stages over the two days, and each stage had its own appeal.  The two stages inside the visitors center tended to get hot and crowded, but the acts playing more than made up for that.

We arrived just as the festival began.  Everything Absent Or Distorted, now unquestionably my favorite local band, was the first act playing the main stage.  Even though there weren’t more than a couple hundred people in attendance for their Friday afternoon set, it was great to see the guys playing Red Rocks.  They put on an energetic set, as always.  But really, you can’t go wrong with white suits, accordions, banjos and happy musicians, am I right?

Next we scaled the stairs to the top of the amphitheater and the New Belgium Stage for The Broken West.  I love their debut album and so far their live show hasn’t disappointed either.  Our first taste of the New Belgium stage was great; we wondered how its sound would be affected by the main stage, but it seemed that they staggered those two stages enough that there was little overlap.  Even when bands were on simultaneously there were rarely any problems.  Rarely.

After The Broken West we grabbed some beer and began discussing our options until Clap Your Hands Say Yeah took the main stage – Cat-A-Tac at the stage or Scott Leger at the acoustic stage?  I was leaning toward local band Cat-A-Tac, even though they play a lot of gigs, I’d been meaning to check them out for some time.  In the midst of decision-making, however, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band took the New Belgium Stage and made our decision for us.  Easily the surprise of the festival, the bluesy/Zydeco-ish Big Damn Band was made up of a drummer, a singer/guitarist, and a washboard player.  A washboard!!!  The highlight was a song (inspired by a true story) entitled “Your Cousin’s On COPS”.  Yeah, the TV show.  It was awesome.  I’d never heard of these guys (and gal) but will never miss a chance to see them again.

At this point we started to plan our stair-climbing in a rather strategic way.  Next was CYHSY on the main stage, but since Ra Ra Riot was on immediately after in the visitors center (accessible only from the top of the amphitheater) we sat about halfway down to the main stage for the CYHSY set.  Despite some feedback and microphone problems, it was a really good set.  Somewhat surprisingly, only three of the nine songs played were from Some Loud Thunder.  The band seemed really confident playing the Red Rocks main stage and were very animated and energetic.

Back to the top and down to the stage for Ra Ra Riot.  This was our first experience with the indoor stages, and though it was getting chilly on the outside, the inside was definitely a different story.  Ra Ra Riot packed ‘em in and even though it was hot and crowded, the enthusiastic set from these upstate New Yorkers was a lot of fun.  I loved the electric string instruments – they looked like violin and cello skeletons.

By this time the stairs and the dancing had taken their toll, so we contented ourselves watching Kings Of Leon from the second from top row of the amphitheater.  I’ve never seen KOL before, and I’ve heard they put on a great show, but it was pretty ho-hum to me.  Maybe because we were so far away, maybe because I’m not familiar with them, maybe because we’d just been rocked by Ra Ra Riot… Not too much to report from this set.

The Editors though… they were a blast.  At times they seemed to sound like any other band from Birmingham, but the energy from both the band and the crowd made the set a complete success.

The Decemberists were the last band we planned to stay for on day one.  They took the main stage at 8:30, and when they came out playing Shiny it seemed like we could be in for a treat.  Unfortunately, for the most part, the set seemed like the last couple Decemberists shows I’d seen.  There were other highlights – Billy Liar, a rendition of You Are My Sunshine that started while Colin was tuning but turned into a full band effort, a funny story about the worst song Colin has ever written (Dracula’s Daughter) that somehow turned into O Valencia!.  Colin was entertaining as always, but there was just something a bit disappointing about the set, something I feel I can’t quite put my finger on.  Perhaps it was that they, like CYHSY, had several sound issues (I’ve never seen so many technical problems on the Red Rocks main stage in my life) or that their last song was completely drowned out when the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club took the New Belgium Stage.  Or maybe I’m simply on Decemberists overload… Monolith marks the third time I’ve seen them in the last year, so it could be I just need a break.

Overall, day one of the Monolith Festival was a rousing success.  Even with the slight Decemberists disappointment, I didn’t see a bad set all day.  I wish I could have seen more, but I’m the type of music fan where once I get pulled in to a great performance I can’t get away.  It was really refreshing to be in the presence of so many talented musicians who were as thrilled to play Red Rocks as we were to see them.

Photo Credits:
Everything Absent Or Distorted [EAOD MySpace]
The Broken West [solace]
Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band [twentyeightdeep]
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah [catinlap]
Ra Ra Riot [woxy]
Kings Of Leon [ckvenild]
Editors [johnandbelinda]
Decemberists [thinkderek]

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