Monolith Festival: Must Hears

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Editors

Friday :: New Belgium Stage :: 7:45 p.m.

This U.K. act has jumped on the hyperactive pop-punk machine of nostalgia that is currently being churned across the Atlantic. A hybrid of Franz Ferdinand and Echo and the Bunnymen, Editors forge far more experimental territory than their aforementioned inspirations. The Birmingham quartet’s 2005 debut The Back Room eared critical success as well as a Mercury Prize nomination for record sales in Britain, and found them on the bills of Coachella and Lollapalooza on this side of the pond. Their latest release An End Has a Start was helmed by legendary producer Jacknife Lee, who has been largely responsible for the signature sounds and success of U2, Kasabian and, more recently, Snow Patrol and Bloc Party.

— Brian Kenney

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Ghostland Observatory

Friday :: Esurance Main Stage :: 4:30

Aaron Behrens and Thomas Turner began their trial by theatrical fire just over three years ago in the podunk Texas town of Fort Stockton. Since then, Ghostland Observatory has wedged themselves into the Austin scene as the electronica act of choice, and more recently they have stormed the national festival scene. The two claim that Ghostland Observatory is not a band, but an agreement between two friends to create something that not only heals their beat-driven hearts, but pleases their rock and roll souls. Merging the stage show presence of P-Funk and Prince (in his kick-ass hey day) with a soundscape of crescendoing arpeggios, ice-cold breakdowns and the drum and bass of Daft Punk, Ghostland Observatory have released two albums this year and gone coast to coast with their live performances.

—    Brian Kenney

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Brian Jonestown Massacre

Saturday :: Esurance Main Stage :: 5:40

Brian Jonestown Massacre front man Anton Newcombe is to psychedelic indie rock what Axl Rose is to rock and roll — a loose cannon that’s part prima donna and part psychopath. But the real similarity is that, like Rose, Newcombe is capable of producing some amazing music. The band, which is adamant about the fact that their portrayal in the documentary Dig! painted them in a bad light, also shadows Rose in that it has had 60 (that’s six-zero) members pass through the band over the years, the most infamous exodus of which was shown in Dig!, when the band quite literally lost it and rolled around on stage fighting in front of label execs. Recently, however, Newcombe’s writing has been hailed by critics and, of all people, Iggy Pop, for being fantastic. If they keep it together they just might be able to prove greatness, especially to the folks who show up for the Evel Knievel factor, hoping to see them crash and burn.

—    Brian F. Johnson

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Ra Ra Riot

Friday :: woxy.com Stage :: 6:30 p.m.

In its brief two-year existence, Syracuse, New York’s Ra Ra Riot has already been dealt a serious setback that terminates many bands. The death of a band member is difficult for most bands that lack the hard-edged industry experience and gumption to continue when most call it quits. Drummer John Pike tragically drowned earlier in the summer just weeks before the eclectic, classically trained six-piece act released their highly anticipated debut EP. Nevertheless, Ra Ra Riot have triumphed over tragedy and carried on, securing slots on many desirable festival bills, in addition to a bi-coastal tour with Editors. This is due process for a band the British mag NME named as one of the “hot five” bands of the CMJ Music Marathon.

— Brian Kenney

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Das EFX

Friday :: New Belgium Stage :: 6:15 p.m.

In the early 1990s two emcees from Brooklyn met at college in Petersburg, Virginia and hip-hop history was made. Skoob and Krazy Drazyz formed Das Efx and signed with Def Squad, the label of East Coast hip-hop heavyweights EPMD, and forever changed the face of rap music. The duo had perfected a style that Americanized reggae dancehall music and made it accessible to hip-hop audiences. Hip-Hop was born in the dancehalls in Jamaica, where deejays would talk and rhyme over the beats. Kool Herc brought hip-hop from Jamaica to the Bronx in the mid-Seventies. So it made poetic sense that nearly twenty years later someone from New York would take it back to jam rock. Das Efx’s 1992 release Dead Serious remains as one of the most imitated albums in the history of the genre.

—    Neil Mcintyre

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Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos

Saturday :: Esurance Main Stage :: 4:30 p.m.

We made the claim two years ago and we say it again. Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s is the band you want to tell your friends about. Get your buddies to fight the main-stage crowd and check out the band’s Saturday afternoon set. The “I-told-you-so” factor will be almost as satisfying as the show itself (for us and for you). The band’s sound “is a mixture of insightful guitars, witty rhythms and the electronic edge that echoes Postal Service (even though lead singer and songwriter Richard Edwards claims to have been doing it first). The painfully sincere lyrics are complimented by breaths of trumpet or cello and are delivered with comforting cynicism as songs like “Skeleton Key” engulf anything real and boil it down to a bittersweet memory,” wrote The Marquee in 2005. We could have written it again yesterday, because there’s no better way to describe what the hell this band does. Don’t believe us? Ask the band’s 19,488 myspace friends. They’ll tell you.

—    Alex Samuel

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Yacht

Saturday :: woxy.com Stage :: 10:30 p.m.

Jona Bechtolt, formerly one half of the popular duo The Blow, is well known for his electrifying performances. Bechtolt likes to perform geeky dancing, full of gymnast-like moves, and mix music that ranges from indie hip-hop to Prince-like funk during his sets. With an unbridled enthusiasm and super friendly demeanor, Bechtolt makes sure that the crowd is having a damn good time while he is in charge of the music. His techy cross-pollination has not gone unnoticed. He has been commissioned by numerous high-profile museums and art collectives and he’s produced an hour-long internet radio program with Clear Cut Press, a Northwest-based publisher of new literary work. Most recently, he performed with his frequent collaborator and girlfriend Claire L. Evans at New York’s The Kitchen, and a few days later performed at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris with West Coast laser folkies Lucky Dragons and Bobby Birdman.

— Tiffany Childs

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Mobius Band

Friday :: woxy.com Stage :: 9:10 p.m.

Everyone has that picture of what the open road is: an 8mm-quality shot of blue skies, straight, empty road and sprawling space on the side. Maybe it comes from some collective unconscious, maybe it comes from a movie scene, or maybe it comes from bands like Mobius Band. The Brooklyn trio echo an electro-pop past, while layering distant voices with telling guitar. Half nostalgic and half revolutionary, the sincere lyrics somehow replicate that contemplative loneliness that gurgles up during road trips. The band was touring since they released their debut album The Loving Sound of Static in 2005, but recently stopped to record Heaven. The self-produced album was written and recorded over 19 months and is due out this October.

— Alex Samuel

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White Rabbits

Saturday :: woxy.com Stage :: 6:30 p.m.

NME gave White Rabbits the #3 spot of Best Bands at SxSW and it seems like every other press outlet out there is clamoring to kiss their cotton tails, with rave reviews across the boards. The New York by way of the Midwest band has been praised for its stellar songwriting ability and instrumental prowess. Within a year of being in New York, the band caught the attention of Say Hey Records and producer Chris Zane. Their Say Hey debut Fort Nightly is said to have a certain joie de vive, a playfulness and charm which evokes days spent on the green, old cinemas, tragic mothers, and restrained, but no less awkward domestic disputes.

—    Brian F. Johnson

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Cat-A-Tac

Friday :: woxy.com Stage :: 5:10 p.m.

This Denver four-piece brings to mind a slower, steadier drive of the Jesus and Mary Chain and Dandy Warhols and will come home to Denver in time for Monolith after a national tour highlighted by the release of their first full-length, Past Lies and Former Lives. On this disc, they’ve refined their sound, minimized some of the heavy guitars, and accentuated vocalist Jim McTurnan’s soft-spoken croon. They step into Red Rocks having simplified their sound and earned their keep on the road. In a world that celebrates Silversun Pickups, Cat-A-Tac is clearly on the cusp of national merit.

—    Brian Kenney

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Laylights

Saturday :: New Belgium Stage :: 2 p.m.

Denver’s own Laylights will count Monolith as a career highlight and will take out all stops by drenching the stage with the same euphoric energy U2 did when they played the Rocks. Like The Killers in 2005, The Laylights’ self-titled 2006 EP possesses a sound that is not overproduced, exaggerated or pompous, but a fuller-produced well balanced exploratory sound akin to, most recently, Arcade Fire, Spiritualized and Interpol. Multiple appearances at SxSW and Denver’s Westword Showcases have only skimmed the surface of their potential. The Denver Post’s Ricardo Baca has said that the band’s live show makes “an airtight case for rock and roll as an Olympic sport. The Denver band is fearless, and this show showcased its manic dexterity and epic sound.”

—    Brian Kenney

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The Thieves

Saturday :: Rock Room Stage :: 4:30 p.m.

British born but California based; it’s no wonder The Thieves are ‘Bowie meets the Beach Boys.’ They are England’s answer to The Strokes. With super-melodic and radio friendly verse-chorus-verse punchy songs, the Oxford, England-born two brothers and a drummer” trio will singe Monolith with a whiskey-infested set of straight-ahead rock that will give Kings of Leon and BMRC a run for their money. And now that they’re resident Californians, expect a slight surfer edge to their more recent tunes, especially considering they’re now sponsored by Rip Curl and have been added to Bam Margera’s Viva La Bands Tour.

—    Brian Kenney

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Machine Gun Blues

Saturday :: Rock Room Stage :: 9:50 p.m.

They are used to beer-soaked floors and sweat-soaked instruments, but Red Rocks should prove an accepting venue for Denver’s self-described “shameless rockers.” Recently returning from a West Coast jaunt, MGB brings a certain stripped-down sense of rock and roll to Monolith. Stripped in the sense that the audience should not be surprised if band members end up in various stages of undress. But also stripped in the sense that their sound recalls G’n’R in their infancy, the Live, Like a Suicide era. They are Denver’s answer to Jet: nostalgic, raw, and energetic rock.

—    Brian Kenney

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3 OH! 3

Friday :: Rock Room Stage :: 9:50 p.m.

How often has this happened: You’re sitting at a red light. The SUV next to you is pumping gansta rap so loudly that your rear-view mirror is vibrating. The rapper shouts out to Boulder — as in Colorado. Rare, right? Not lately! In fact, if you haven’t heard lines like “Yous a punk-bitch if you don’t know about Boulder” spilling from speakers or seen kids flashing 3Oh!3 hand symbols, you’re getting old. Sean Foreman and Nathaniel Motte’s raucous antics can pump up anyone with a heartbeat. The Boulder-filmed video for “Holler Till You Pass Out” is being featured on mtvU’s website. The band has even opened for Snoop Dogg himself (just a few weeks ago at the Fillmore in Denver). They’re the hottest thing in B-Dizzle Boulder, Foreman rocks a mean ’stache and they own the basketball courts (the ones with the elementary school-sized hoops, anyway).

—    Alex Samuel

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Gregory Alan Isakov

Saturday :: Songwriter Stage :: 2 p.m.

Gregory Alan Isakov is hardly just another singer/songwriter. His dusty guitar and haunting voice slowly ease into your awareness and settle there with banjo-licks and steady rhythms. His first full-length album That Sea, The Gambler came out last May and was recorded partly in Isakov’s barn. Isakov’s band The Freight lends a subtle touch to the album’s delicately arranged ballads and a dynamic boost to songs like “Black & Blue,” and the jazz-laced “Salt and the Sea.” Isakov was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and grew up in Philadelphia. At the end of the last decade, Isakov moved to Colorado and, in 2007, won the Telluride Troubadour competition and received Westword’s Best Singer/Songwriter award.

— Alex Samuel
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