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Monolith Festival @ Red Rocks – day two

at Red Rocks Amphitheater – September 15, 2007

by Mystik Spiral

Day two of the festival brought more bands and more decisions to make than the day before.  I played it safe for much of this festival, tending to stick with bands that I’d seen before and/or was pretty familiar with.  Much like the day before, day two was overwhelmingly loaded with great music.

We arrived a little later than the day before, just in time for the start of Matt & Kim’s set at the New Belgium stage.  Just like their show at the Boulder Theater three days before, Matt and Kim were all smiles, energy and moxie.  The constantly growing crowd dug every note of the much too short set.  Both Matt and Kim seemed completely in awe of the venue: “Kim, maybe we didn’t make it.  Maybe our plane crashed.  Maybe this is show heaven.”

In sharp contrast to the wide-eyed wonder of Matt & Kim, Brian Jonestown Massacre was next on the main stage.  I stayed just long enough to witness Anton’s tuning meltdown – first cursing his band for not being able to play him a “fucking D“, then ordering the crowd to “Shut the fuck up.  I’m doing this for you, just shut up and we’ll tune and play a song for you”.  Wow.  I can’t believe anyone still books this guy, though I admit it was a bit difficult to tear myself away from the BJM train wreck to catch Nathan & Stephen at the Rock Room Stage.

I’d been meaning to check out Nathan & Stephen (a complete misnomer, as there are at least 8 band members…) for quite a while, and I’m glad I finally caught a performance.  The set was jammed with fun pop songs; the band and crowd were having an equally great time.

The next band on the Rock Room-adjacent stage was White Rabbits, who I want to see dearly.  Unfortunately William Elliott Whitmore was playing the acoustic stage at exactly the same time and I wanted to see him too.  I opted for the acoustic, mainly because I‘m seeing White Rabbits at the Larimer Lounge next month.  We did exit the visitors center via the room (where White Rabbits were sound-checking) at a very slow pace, in hopes of catching their first song, but no luck.

William Whitmore was a pleasant surprise.  I’d heard of him but had never listened to his music.  He’s a young guy but sings with the gruff yet melodic voice of a seasoned folk-ster.  This was the only set I saw at the smallest festival stage; Whitmore didn’t think anyone would show up to see him and was oozing gratitude throughout the set.  He didn’t hide his animosity towards cops, capping off the amazing set with a shoe-stomping rendition of Johnny Law.

Ready Art Brut?  They were up next on the main stage.  Eddie Argos is the consummate front man, strutting about the stage, or into the crowd, and spitting more than singing the lyrics.  The crowd loved them and I can’t wait to see them again with The Hold Steady in November.

Back to the stage for Hot IQs.  Even though they play a lot of gigs in Denver, they are my almost favorite local band (second only to Everything Absent Or Distorted), and I didn’t want to pass up seeing them at the festival.  The band was already playing and the room was already packed by the time I got in, so sadly I couldn’t get a view of drummer Elaine – arguably the biggest draw of the Hot IQs live show.  For those not in the know – she’s hot, she’s got an affinity for bubblegum, and she keeps a raging beat on those drums of hers.  The thing I love most about Hot IQs is their ability to create a party atmosphere at their shows.  Last time I saw them they brought a cooler of popsicles on stage and threw them into the crowd halfway through the show.  For the Monolith set they had confetti-filled balloons floating around, getting popped by the crowd.  Great set.

One of the bands that I’d been most looking forward to was Spoon on the main stage.  We watched from the top of the amphitheater, in preparation for Cloud Cult at the New Belgium stage.  One of the greatest things about Red Rocks is that there really is no bad seat in the house; they have a screen so those of us who choose the nosebleed seats can still get a decent glimpse of the action.  Although I have to mention that what the second-to-last row of the amphitheater lacks in view it more than makes up for in sound quality, and Spoon sounded extra-amazing.  As expected, they played a lot from this year’s incredible Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.  The band was extraordinarily tight, Britt was all smiles – it was definitely one of the best sets of the weekend.

I’d only seen Cloud Cult once before Monolith, but it was one of the more moving, almost spiritual, musical experiences I have ever had.  The Monolith show was no different.  From the New Belgium stage atop the amphitheater, with a bit of wind kicking up, Cloud Cult drew in a large, sing-along crowd with their unique fusion of music and art.  In a final bit of deceit that you probably wouldn’t expect from Craig Minowa, he flat-out lied to the crowd and said that the Flaming Lips weren’t going on for another 20 minutes so we all had plenty of time to stay for their last two songs.  In reality, the Flaming Lips were starting at about that time… Not that I would have left Cloud Cult, but I thought it was a clever little bit of trickery.

I stayed up top to watch the Flaming Lips’ first few songs, as I’d decided earlier that I really wanted to catch YACHT’s set – he was booked for the stage half an hour after the Lips’ were scheduled to start, poor guy.  I got down to the stage where they were doing a drawing for some free Southwest Airlines tickets or something.  There were about a dozen people in the room, and for a moment I thought I was mistaken on the whole YACHT thing… I checked the schedule, made sure I was in the room, and waited.  Sure enough, after about five minutes, Jona was introduced and proceeded to look out at the crowd and just chuckle – by this time there were probably about 25 people in the room, including Matt & Kim, Bryan from Hot IQs, and the sound guys.

He spent the first ten minutes or so just talking to us – about how this was exactly what he pictured when he found out he was on during the Flaming Lips’ set, how the car that was supposed to pick him up at the airport never showed up, how he’d already gotten paid, so he didn’t feel like he really had to do anything.  Then he asked that the lights be turned down and the speakers up, and put on the perfect display to end the already amazing festival.

If you have never seen YACHT, do yourself a great favor and go do it.  He has moves like I’ve never seen, and the small crowd didn’t seem to faze him at all – it was obvious he put everything he had into his performance.  He spent the entire set shifting between the stage and the floor, completely engaging the audience (I hesitate to call it a “crowd”).  At the end of his set, he assured us that even though we were small in number, he didn’t take us for granted, and thanked everyone for coming.  He also invited us to stay and hang out, but I thought I’d better get back down to the main stage as I was meeting my friends (and ride home!) after the Lips were done.

I was out in time to see the Flaming Lips’ encore.  I’d never seen them before, but of course their live show is legendary, so I wasn’t surprised by all the bells and whistles… I’m sure the entire set was great, but I left thoroughly satisfied that I was one of the few to see YACHT.

Overall, the weekend was impressive, exhausting, exhilarating and completely awesome.  The weather couldn’t have been better – mid-September can be a little sketchy in Colorado, but we had no rain (or snow!) and it didn’t even get too cold once the sun went down.  The best thing about Monolith was that there was always music happening somewhere – I love not having to wait through set changes.  I can only hope that the festival was enough of a success to become a tradition.

Photo Credits:
Brian Jonestown Massacre [johnandbelinda]
Nathan & Stephen [shifty_eyes]
White Rabbits [woxy]
William Elliott Whitmore [solace]
Art Brut [squish_e]
Hot IQs [johnandbelinda]
Spoon [gloryglorycatchacory]
Cloud Cult [solace]
Flaming Lips [catinlap]

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