words & photos by Keith Marlowe
Brahms @ 450 Union Street, Brooklyn, NY - July 15, 2010
I felt weird as soon as I walked in the room, which had a girls giving out candy standing by two Toyotas, opened up like they were in a showroom. There was a DJ playing club music, and signs that read Toyota and the Village Voice everywhere, because everyone knows the only thing more important than throwing a party is constantly reminding people WHO is throwing the party. On the other hand, there were pretty women giving out free Cabo Wabo tequila, so I decided to have some drinks and try to relax. As I watched people take photos of themselves in a car turned into a makeshift photo booth, I still felt more like I was at a mall than about to witness one of the most unique touring rock bands in the world.
Brahms was the opener, and they seemed a curious choice to me - not only their music, but because the band stood almost motionless behind orange pieces of plexiglass or something. They were the exact opposite of what was gonna happen when Monotonix came out. I listened to a couple songs, and went backstage to watch my friend Haggai (the drummer) do push-ups in Garfield underwear.
While getting warmed up for the show he told me they had just come from Chicago where they finished a third recording session with Steve Albini. They had originally planned on doing a single, but it went so well they went back two more times and ended up recording an entire album, still untitled, that will drop this winter on Drag City. "I'm really excited about this record, I feel like it's the first time we really got the live show energy into an album format," he said. Monotonix formed in Tel Aviv, Isreal, in 2005. This record will be their third.
While Haggai was pounding notches in his drumstick with a butter knife to help keep his grip when the sticks are soaked, the other two members of the band Yonatan Gat (guitar) and Ami Shalev (singer) came in. "So you guys are playing for Toyota, are they giving you free cars?" I asked. "Yes, luxury models," answered Haggai. "We're gonna drive them home," joked Ami. "Is it weird to play a place like this?," I asked and Ami's response was refreshing. "We'll play any place that an audience comes and wants to see us play, from a house party to a huge festival." I wanted to know if they were going to play a song on top of one of the cars, and I didn't even get the question out before Ami said, "They told us DO NOT touch the cars." That seemed to be in stark contrast with Toyota's slogan to "Up the Antics," displayed in lights on the wall. If you can't trust a corporation's catchphrase, what else is there? Although if there was a band that could be counted on to inflict maximum damage on an automobile, it would be Monotonix.
To call their live shows primal is an understatement. Three long-haired dudes in their underwear playing rock music on gear consisting of a battered drumkit and a bashed Fender is gonna be raw, but they take it to a place that recalls the live ferocity of the Stooges. They put on a crazy performance while pounding a room-filling sound out of the most minimal of instruments. What's remarkable is how much older Ami is than Iggy was when he started, and he absorbs the same kind of abuse. To play in that much pain, night after night, speaks volumes about how committed this band is to touring and sharing their music. I talked with him about getting hurt during a show in Palm Beach this past February. He told me, "It wasn't a specific incident, I tore the meniscus in my knee. I'm just old. I don't bend like I used to." Even with that pain, they only missed one show, the next night in Georgia. Asked how he was feeling now, Ami responded, "I'm at 98 percent." Watching him suddenly drop down a foot or two off the drum stool while being lifted up by the crowd, I thought how amazing it was they all aren't hurt more often. People come slamming on top of them from behind while they play, everything that isn't bolted down becomes airborne, and usually one, if not all, of the band is lifted up and carried around by the crowd. The floor is soaked with every liquid at hand. They trust the audience with their safety at every show.
The Toyota event was one of the more subdued Monotonix performances I've seen, which is still wilder than most bands could ever dream of being, and probably still qualifies as a riot. Haggai played with a garbage can on is head, Ami got passed around the crowd while playing the floor tom, put a lollipop in his mouth, his pants, then Haggai's mouth. He played salesman, climbing on top of the bar, wiping the sweat off his body with a stack of napkins before plunging them into his underwear and hurling them on the crowd while shouting "Who's ready to drive a Toyota? HUH?!? WHOSE READY TO DRIVE A TOYOTA?????" It was, without question, the most excited I've ever seen people get about driving a Toyota. The show ended the way all their shows end, pretty much utter chaos that leaves the drums scattered and the band and audience soaked in sweat, beer, water (and in this case tequila).
I went backstage to watch Ami squeeze the sweat out of his socks, take a band photo of them on three fridges and talk a little more. They left for Europe on Saturday, and are playing a bunch of festival dates until the second week of September, when they return home to Isreal. The homecoming is scheduled around the birth of Ami's son, who is expected it a little over three weeks. "What if he's born early?," someone asked, and Ami assured her "He won't be. He's gonna wait for his Dad."
You can check out the early sessions of their Albini recordings on two singles out now: Never Died Before/Lazy Boy and Fun Fun Fun/Try Try Try.
Also, Haggai confessed that he owns a Toyota Corolla and thinks it's a great car.
More pictures from the show continue below...