I’ve been talking with my friends lately about how difficult it’s becoming to conjure up new and exciting ways to describe noise rock bands. You can only use the term “wall of sound” or “epic guitar swell” so many times before it begins to sound repetitive. As much as I sincerely worship post-rock giants such as Mogwai, Mono, Explosions in the Sky and local greats Kinski and Bronze Fawn, what can I possibly say anymore that is new? Considering this, there I found myself again at yet another noise rock show with a notebook in my hand and a boatload of anxiety in my chest. Three bands with no lyrics and nothing but walls of sound and epic guitar swells to describe. Eeek!
Sleepy Eyes of Death started out the night surrounded by fog and lights, rocking the large-ish crowd early in the night with sounds reminiscent of some 80’s futuristic movie soundtrack. My friend actually leaned over and whispered “This sounds like it should be in Blade Runner.” Sleepy Eyes of Death are madmen onstage and kept pace by alternating a nice mix of electronic and post rock. Through their short set, they made good use of reverberated snare, crazy sampling, and embryonic drumbeats.
While waiting for Maserati’s set to begin, we all heard “Dream Baby Dream” by THE BOSS, which was an interesting segue between bands. It was a beautiful song and more than one person asked me to figure out what it was. The crowded stage was loaded with several Ampeg amps with high watt heads, loads of other equipment and very little open space. The band opened with big drums, big guitar, big expressive sound that hit me in my deepest core. Further into the set, the organic, varying tempo of the drums begin to remind me of a shimmering desert oasis, complete with heat-induced hallucinations. Here and there a little 80’s influence, loads of Krautrock motorik and then suddenly another mind blowing movement. The drummer of the Athens, GA band was the big standout, Maserati is definitely his band. As each song progressed, I was most captivated by the aggressive drum style, tribal double-time on the floor toms, ridiculous speedy snare and the amazing energy required to produce it all. Alongside, the guitar and bass provided some purely sinister and slithery, sexy side work. The entire set was madness from the get-go, Not too much variation overall but some great quality live work.
I was glad to have finally seen Maserati, but mostly I was at the show for Mono. I’ve seen Mono six times now. For a band with so very little stage presence, they’ve never failed to deliver a truly arresting and emotional live experience. Once after a Mono show at the Sunset, I went to a house party only to find them playing a second show in the basement, sweat pouring down from the walls and ceiling. Another time at Neumo’s, they had a painter onstage with them who painted on a huge canvas throughout the show, bees and city skylines, screaming children and abstracts. I’ve been whipped in the face by the hair of crazed Mono fans more than once. I’ve been known to spontaneously burst into tears during certain songs. What would this show be like? Would it be better? Could it be better than any other Mono show I’d seen before? I wasn’t sure. I didn’t have long to wait, as Mono doesn’t have much of a setup. The nondescript band took their places and began.
Initially, the set began like any other: a sheen of cymbals, the omnipresent far-reaching guitar narrative, then the heart stopping wall of sound. That’s right, I said “wall of sound“. That’s what it was. I leaned back, closed my eyes and let it infiltrate my body. For as formulaic as instrumental heavy metal can be, Mono really does take it to a different place, so emotional and organic. The crowd stood rapt, as if trapped in a dream, held hostage by the swirling, eddying swell. My heart was in my throat while the guitars screamed an utterly painful wail. The sound was the very essence of God.
Moving on to “Burial At Sea”, the Japanese influence I heard in the music called to mind a tragic hero’s tale of love unrequited in a provincial setting long ago. I made up an entire movie in my head during just this one song. The dramatic buildup was dizzying as the guitars keened and squealed until we were hit once again with sound so immense it was like standing in a wind tunnel, sending me into a full epileptic swoon. Only the second song and I was already completely soaked in sweat and unable to tear myself away from the teeth rattling jar. Hot damn. Mono isn’t the most dynamic band to watch, but it is still captivating to see their full concentration as they play. Everyone has their long dark hair hanging in their face as they hunch over their instruments, such little movement considering the aural madness they produce. The only engaging member is the lone female of the group, standing and swaying like some hypnotic veela.
Feeling a little faint and breathless at that point, I marveled once again at how a little wood, string and electricity can come together and produce such staggering beauty. The music was rising and falling again and again, each build producing a level of joy and fear and love in my chest, I feared my heart just might burst. The high decibel squall wrapped around me like a boa constrictor for what seemed like an eternity until…was it over? I could breathe again. But only for a second. Seriously, if a heroin habit could be associated with a sound, this would be it. When Mono plays live, nothing else matters.
Oddly, more than one person likened the music Friday night to the soundtrack to a Spaghetti Western. Still more made references to the apocalypse. That’s where I tend to take it: When the heavens open up and Jesus comes to take everyone home, this is what it will sound like. “Yearning” began with idyllic tones and soothing singular notes, gradually building and building. I kept expecting the total smack down but it never quite comes. Eventually the song built to an anticipatory plateau; cymbals providing prolonged sustain, guitar growing deep and brooding, then a singing, wailing, crying sound, a crazy swirl of sound, a SCREAM from the guitar and then…nothing. As I caught my breath, I was suddenly hit again with jaw dropping madness. I see buildings collapsing, forests burning, planes crashing as the vicious, pure and life affirming sounds reduced us all to that hot, primordial swirl that we existed in at the beginning of time. I actually had to leave the building to smoke and get away from it for a few minutes, it was too much. I threw back another shot of whiskey before I went back in, just in time to hear my favorite song, “Halo”. Yeah, I cried a little bit. Only a little.
So I guess Mono showed me. Friday’s show WAS the best of theirs I’ve ever seen. They’ve continued to progress musically and in performance in ways that I didn’t think could be achieved. In just over an hour, they managed to reduce a near-capacity Neumo’s crowd to a mass of shuffling, swaying zombies. I felt like my face had been blown off. Initially, I thought I had no more words for all this, and I’m still a little speechless. I hope I managed to pull it off this last time.