Live Reviews: Monolith Festival, Editors w/ Biffy Clyro & Ra Ra Riot, The Aliens

This week, we have three reviews, two from outside of Seattle, including one from perhaps the most beautiful outdoor concert venue in the country:



Monolith Festival, Red Rocks, Colorado 9/14-9/15
review and photos by David Sallak

What stands out when visiting Red Rocks, Colorado for Monolith, a first-ever music festival at this location, composed of 60-ish bands over two days on a gorgeous September weekend… The landscape, the weather… Oh, the bands!

Two events explode in my memory on Friday, the first being Ghostland Observatory. Told only that “you must see them” by my musicologist friend, I expected a lot but got far more. First of all, to enjoy the catchy club beats of this duo on a mid-afternoon timeslot on the huge Red Rock main stage is to wonder why a duo got the space and looked so tiny as a result… and then the strong beats and mix of Thomas Ross Turner took care of the void by pounding the rocks with steady sledgehammer beats accompanied by the plaintive wail and Michael Hutchence hip-thrusts of Aaron Behrens. “On Rich Man,” Aaron cranked out the guitar and laid down solid riffs against a hard beat of thump and electronic buzz. Closed with “Sad Sad City,” and this duo waged war against the gorgeous sky and stone. Blistering execution, leaving adoring fans sweating and grooving and thumping and panting for more of the fuzz!


That evening, several bands later, came the strong machismo of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, all leather and smoke amidst the red and yellow lights and high vantage point of playing a stage at the top of the Red Rocks grandstand area. This presented a new and unique vantage point for fans of music, no longer looking down but looking UP at a band slashing away at solid thrusting power chords and drumbeats. This group tackles the finer things in life such as fast bikes and bold women, in the spirit of Aerosmith with a dark artistic take. My favorite lyric from Peter Hayes played with my atypical view of women in rock… “she was seventeen, she had everything she’d need… to lose.” Good to see Nick Jago back with the band and the power trio that is BRMC making a strong statement for rock to stand for all that is sexy and aggressive in music. The set included their current hit Berlin, quite the unforgiving piece of music, and they also did an acoustic piece as well, framing it within a selection of more of their new hits from their latest work of 2007, Baby 81. I left this performance very satisfied with the first day music, with more drama to come!


Saturday exploded upon the scene, skies fantastically blue and the air erupting in the glory of endless sound. Off the bat, an early performance by Forget Cassettes left me speechless with wonder, the truly religious experience of soaking in the raw emotions of their gorgeously produced live set. The audience hovered on every note, masking their appreciation for each song by allowing the room to go deafeningly quiet instead of heaping on the praise of claps and screams. The whole experience left me bewildered and truly amazed at the power of Beth Cameron, the lead singer and only core member of the band. With a pair of keyboardists and percussion/bass members joining her, the band flowed from power riffs through quiet reflective electronic moments that flowed on for far longer than you would expect for those expecting snappy live songs. This band takes time to appreciate, but I allowed the music to flow over me and take my breath away.


One under-appreciated pair of artists showed up on time, literally, from NY that morning and managed to land on stage nonetheless traveling through hell on every left turn. Matt and Kim are an infectious pair of drum-n-synth piledrivers dynamically expressing their joy at even being there. Kim clubbed her small drumkit with her tattooed guns and despite her pixie-ish size, knocked a hole in the gathering audience. And Matt simply danced and played and sang and jumped at every chance to tell how lucky everyone was that they were even performing at all, let alone in such a beautiful place. Go leave it to a pair of New Yorkers who had never seen the Rocky Mountains, to notice just how big a country we have and how music travels so well across such distance.

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Speaking of New York, the most popular band (based purely on how many people can you squeeze into a can) had to be White Rabbits, the IT band of the moment from the same city so nice they named it twice. A six-piece dressed sharply in Joe Jackson sportcoat-and-tie attire, this collection of youth and vigor laid it all on the line and Gregory Roberts played through an obvious headcold to pound out ten fantastic songs in a set overwhelmingly positive on the vibe and indulgent on the style. A quick start on with Stephen Patterson on piano with an untitled mad jam bleeding into “Kid on My Shoulders,” the house started hopping with no wait for catching a breath. By the end of the set, hits continued to come out with The Plot, then an amusing mashup of “Maggie’s Farm” from out of nowhere and the closure of “I Used to Complain Now I Don’t.” The drum rhythms on this party tune bely the craftsmanship behind their enthusiastic talents. Believe the hype with these boys, they play to have fun and leave it all on the stage. This band easily wins my adoration as the best of the weekend, for sheer joy and resplendent expression of all that music can become, within the tight confines of a dark room in the red rock of a mountain a mile high.



Ra Ra Riot, Biffy Clyro, Editors, Chop Suey, Seattle 9/20/07
written by Jim Beckmann
photos by JoshC

It was an intriguing bill from the beginning, a triple threat of Upstate New York’s young indie rock darlings Ra Ra Riot, Glasgow’s experimentally emotive (or hard-rockingly hirsute) Biffy Clyro, and Birmingham’s Mercury Prize noms Editors. Would such a diverse group of bands really be able to compliment each other? The suspense alone drew me to a show I might not otherwise have seen.


Apparently the rest of the sold out crowd wasn’t as eager as my friends and I, who all made a point to see the openers Ra Ra Riot. We were able to walk right up to the stage and stand with a select group already aware of what on-stage magic the band was capable. You might recall that the band made news this year as much for debut EP buzz as for the unexpected death of their drummer, John Pike. While the band has admittedly been struggling with his loss, they have continued on through a series of roundly lauded performances while touring with the likes of Tokyo Police Club and now Editors. The six band members, completed by new drummer Mike Ashley Cameron Wisch (thanks for the correction!), and including cellist Alexandra Lawn, violinist Rebecca Zeller, guitar player Milo Bonacci, bass player Mathieu Santos, and vocalist and sometimes keyboard player Wesley Miles, all seemed to thrive in the controlled chaos they created, which at times has led to Arcade Fire references, but which at other times also distinguishes them from that more famous band.



The members of Ra Ra Riot, pushed to the front of the stage thanks to the other two bands’ gear, delivered to the audience what must have felt a release. Miles has the kind of voice 50’s pop stars wished for (and teenyboppers dreamed about): smooth, swooning, and strong, as displayed most clearly on the pop gem “Can You Tell.” Musically the band sounds like a string ensemble crashed into a post-rock band. The animated stage presence of Lawn and Zeller (with bows a-blazing) and Miles (whose on-stage contortions seem like Iggy Pop’s infant steps) only add to the band’s seemingly experienced synchronicity. The highlight of the set: Wesley Miles declaring “This is a song written by our good friend John Pike” before leading the band into “St. Peter’s Day Festival.”


With the audience now primed (and hopefully converted to the music of Ra Ra Riot), Glaswegians Biffy Clyro took the stage, two thirds shirtless, one third tattooed, and three thirds rockin’ out. While singer/guitarist Simon Neil and bassist James Johnston had enough hair to require the conditioner of three 80’s metal bands, the less amply maned drummer Ben Johnston was muscular enough to toss them all into space. Visually and aurally, you couldn’t get further away from the lovable indie nerd openers. The audience, though, didn’t need to be converted to riffin’ Scottish manmeat that is Biffy.



Song after song, the audience mouthed or shouted the words, depending on how confident they were of what Simon Neil was singing. Neil’s abundant tattoos were nearly entertainment enough — the gun inked to his side and holstered in his pants was a particularly nice touch — but through the pounding skins, thumping bass, and thrashing hair, you realize how solid the songs actually are and why this crowd is chanting for a band you may not have heard of before.


When Editors finally appeared, Chop Suey was filled to capacity, making sightlines for those of us under six feet practically nonexistent. However, frontman Tom Smith whirled wildly on stage, at some point entering everyone’s view. Rather than being a distraction, his constant animation and gesticulation fed into the energy of performance itself, giving full life to two albums’ worth of songs that to the uninitiated might seem deadened and, well, depressing — such is the legacy of Joy Division. Editors have often been compared, in fact, not only to the legendary Manchester band but also rather unfairly to recent Joy Division disciples Interpol. Tonight though, Editors showed far more vitality than I’ve ever seen from the typically staid stage presence of Interpol as they performed songs new and old, like “Bones,” “All Sparks,” “Bullets,” “Blood”, “You Are Fading,” “An End Has a Start,” “Munich,” and “Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors.”


Tom Smith, sporting Kramer hair this time out (I remember a buzzcut last time they played this venue to a much smaller crowd), drew nearly all of our attention. Were it not for lead guitarist Chris Urbanowicz’s ability to create such a sonic bliss, built upon the solid rhythm provided by bassist Russell Leetch and drummer Ed Lay, the rest of the band might have been lost behind Smith’s magnetic presence. Thankfully, such was not the case. Editors surely proved to the doubters, if there were any here tonight, that they had warranted their recent critical acclaim. It was a surprising show indeed.




For more great photos, check out joshc’s Flickr set.



The Aliens, Great Scott, Allston, MA 9/20/07
review and photos by Miriam Lamey

The Aliens embrace a quirky and spacey theme, a phenomenon that stretches from their band name (obviously) to the title of their 2007 album, Astronomy for Dogs. Yet their live performance on September 20th at the Great Scott in Allston, Massacusetts, was far from spaced-out. To call their set “out of this world” is a far more apt description, for the band played one of the best live sets I’ve ever seen in Boston. Founding Beta Band member Gordon Anderson (vocals, guitar), along with fellow Beta Band bandmates John Maclean (keyboards, synth) and Robin Jones (drums), formed The Aliens in order to make a fresh musical start. Last Wednesday, it quickly became evident these lads made a fantastic decision to change direction. The band held the crowd’s rapt attention for the entire set with their trippy, psychedelic rock tunes chock-full of weird electronic noises and poppy keys.


Kicking off the set with “Setting Sun,” a track that in no way resembles The Chemical Brothers’ song of the same moniker, Anderson and the band threw themselves into both their playing and performance. This high energy piece nods back to Doors-like, retro rock, presenting jangly guitars, swingy riff breakdowns and hearty keys and synth. Initial sound issues did not deter the lads. Rather, they joked with the audience, sipped their drinks and chilled out until the problems were fixed. Their attention to sound quality benefited the entire performance; every instrument was utterly clear, and Anderson and guitarist Jed Milroy were able to burst out some thrilling harmonies.


As the set progressed, the group became highly exuberant. Anderson leaped about the stage, his long hair blowing about crazily, thanks to a strategically placed fan. Of course, the fan was intended keep the band cool, but Anderson, wearing an oversized bright orange T-shirt, cargo shorts and rainbow sneakers was both hilarious and fascinating to watch; he even attempted a couple of scissor kicks on crowded stage. For “Robot Man,” Anderson donned a space helmet (a neon, blue green nylon hat) and futuristic sun glasses. Fantastic. “Robot Man” sounded as complex and eclectic as on the recording. The lads blended fast-paced lyrics, and arching, Beatles-like harmonies over 70’s disco keys and synth, mixing in a plethora of spacey electronic beeps just to keep things interesting. The best part? All members seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, dancing along to the music and rocking out their instruments. The effect was contagious, for the crowd started bouncing and dancing along. Yet The Aliens also presented their more sensitive side, with the dreamier Crosby Stills Nash and Young-like ballad “Tomorrow.” With Anderson on harmonica, the swelling track filled the Great Scott with its poignant melody and almost soothing layered guitars.


Overall, The Aliens’ performance was compelling on a variety of levels. First of all, the music is just so darn engaging: the lads combine a variety of sounds and influences to create highly appealing tunes to which practically any listener can be hooked. Also, because these guys are such tight musicians, not one of their songs seemed crowded, thick or confusing. Plus, all band members play with great accuracy and attention to detail, even going so far as to re-start a song in order to get it just right. The verdict? A thrilling set reeking of professionalism and showcasing The Alien’s undoubted and unconventional talent.

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  1. randy
    Posted September 29, 2007 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    The Editors show was excellent. I was surprised and delighted that they were playing such a relatively small venue. And Ra Ra Riot were a real surprise and treat for me; I hadn’t heard of them before but I’m listening now.

  2. Louise Miles
    Posted October 1, 2007 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    Nice review. Please note that the drummer for Ra Ra Riot is Cameron Wisch.

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