A question posed by someone in the audience at Monotonix last night: "Where are all the grungy St. Louis hipsters?" The girl went on to state her disappointment in the seeming lack of Southside punks in the crowd, but the answer to her query seemed self-evident: They thought a Monotonix show at the Gargoyle would suck.
They were wrong. So very wrong. But with the venue's no alcohol policy and general uptightness about fun, one wondered what Montonix would be allowed to do, what with nudity off the table, crowd surfing a no-no and nary a drink in sight for front man/hierophant Ami Shalev to steal and pour on himself. Despite the venue strictures and wary security, Monotonix handily destroyed the crowd and delivered one of the most badass shows the Gargoyle has seen in a long time.
Monotonix's reputation preceded its live performance. The band's been known to light things on fire, hang from the ceiling and generally lay waste to any venue it comes across, which is why it's been banned from playing most clubs in their native Israel. Drummer Haggai Fershtman said after the show that the band will never forget its St. Louis debut, when it played part of their set in the Firebird's bathroom and got so rowdy that it broke a toilet. Earlier this year, the 45-year old Shalev broke his leg 15 minutes into their set in West Palm Beach. He demanded ice and a chair, insisting he could finish the show seated, but the paramedics disagreed.
The crowd was modest for openers Heavy Cream, but the venue began to fill as if by magic when Monotonix hit the floor. As is its custom, the band eschewed the stage and set up in the crowd. Off went their shirts, out came a bottle of water (Shalev used it to anoint the crowd) and with the very first blasts of the primal drums and jagged '70s guitar, the room went apeshit. In a stultifying acrobatic move, the sinewy Shalev balanced himself on Fershtman's shoulder for a what seemed like a minute, while the drummer pounded away, totally unfazed. Shalev didn't stop moving for the 40 minute set. Any other headliner playing for 40 minutes would be unforgivable, but for Monotonix, it was a blessing.
Shalev prowled through the crowd, parting it like Moses and the Red Sea. He looked like a cross between the savior of the Israelites and Abbie Hoffman, only hairier. He saw me writing furiously in my notebook and snatched it out of my hand, and probably glimpsed the very word "Moses" before I had occasion to grab it back, afraid he'd lob it into the sweaty mass of bodies if he didn't like the biblical comparison. It was almost more fun to watch the faces in the throng, varying from euphoric to half dead, visages screwed up into grotesque masks as their sweat-drenched owners jumped and boiled over in carnal ecstasy.
Every few songs, the band migrated across the room, giving those entrenched in the punk fray a break and affording those on the outside a chance to swarm around them on the front lines. Pulling down his red gym shorts, Shalev rubbed his bare ass on a pillar while guitarist Yonatan Gat wrenched distortion-heavy riffs out of his instrument and Fershtman flayed increasingly ferocious salvos from his spare kit. Shalev was hoisted above the crowd, an obliging dude held up a drum for him to beat on like he was keeping time on a primitive work ship before he tossed his sticks into the human sea.
Shalev's guttural vocals were indistinguishable in the heady instrumental battery, but it hardly mattered. His antics were more than sufficient, he could have skipped singing altogether and simply yelled "Happy Hanukkah!" every few minutes, which he did anyway.
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