When it comes to packing bodies into rock clubs, it doesn't hurt to have a reputation for kinetic live shows. Tel Aviv's Monotonix is a punk-informed trio amassing a devoted international fan base thanks to constant touring. From the stage, the band blows minds and eardrums with its primal, Black Sabbath–inflected cacophony and daredevil delivery.
Frontman Ami Shalev is as likely to wrap his microphone cord around an unsuspecting fan as he is to loop it around a nearby rafter and swing fearlessly. He tosses his tightly curled mane, howling and spitting beer, or agilely climbs streetlamps outside venues with audacity.
Shalev isn't conducting this confrontational mission alone. Guitarist Yonotan Gat can't be caged by the stage, miraculously avoiding smacking people with his instrument while dashing through the crowd, leaping atop bars, or straddling tables. He does this while churning out riffs that are equal parts grunge-sludge and Thin Lizzy–channeling harmonics. Drummer Haggai Fershtman takes it even further, crowd-surfing while audiences hold his drums aloft for him to bash with precision and power. Instruments are often lit on fire, depending on what Monotonix can get away with (drumsticks or cymbals usually suffice) before the authorities are summoned.
Committing atomic energy of this caliber to tape is an entirely different beast, though. "We don't set things on fire or crowd-surf drums in the studio," Gat acknowledges. "On record, it needs to fit all moods; live, it just needs to fit the moment."
On the group's latest release, Where Were You When It Happened?, Monotonix walks the line between raw execution and studio trickery. Live, Shalev's vocals are often lost in the flurry of his acrobatics, but here they come to the front. On "I Can't Take It Anymore," he evokes Mudhoney's guttural growls, while the disarmingly downtempo "Something Has Dried" finds him treading toward mournful balladry. The garage-punk blast of Gat's guitar becomes more salient, anchoring "My Needs" with a powerful continuity and a deeply distorted fuzz tone.
After forming in 2005, Monotonix began a relentless touring regimen, eventually signing to Drag City Records last year and recording the EP Body Language with help from local producer Tim Green. Where Were You When It Happened?, also recorded with Green, is the group's first proper full-length, conceived during a much-needed sabbatical in New Orleans last year. Arriving with six songs in mind, the trio conjured six more while soaking up the rich history of their temporary home. "There isn't a brass section on the album," Gat says, "but I'm sure the jazzy, weird vibe of that city made its way into the music somehow."
Indeed, Where Were You ... ? is more brash than brassy, reflective of Monotonix' unbridled approach (Green recorded the group almost entirely live, with very few overdubs). There is also an audible balance between the members' individual musical roles that suits a tightly knit act bonded by a road-warrior lifestyle.
The title was Shalev's, originally meant as a humorous way of asking people whether they remember historic events. Gat augments this with his own interpretation. "It's about becoming so blinded at a certain period of time that you don't even remember where you were," he says. "But it's also this joke we have about people escaping Israel at times of war, only to come back when it's peaceful again and complain. Where were you when the bombs fell?"
Clever, politically charged titles aside, Monotonix is ultimately more about the full-contact sport of its live performances. You definitely want to experience the band's detonations front and center; just be prepared to participate as much as the players.