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Going All the Way

The rock of Israel's Monotonix is setting America on fire--literally

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On Monotonix's MySpace page, you can watch a short clip of the trio playing the title track to their most recent EP, Body Language (Drag City, 2008), in Austin last October.

The camera hovers above before zooming in on guitarist Yonatan Gat, who begins playing a fast hook while standing among the audience. This is the first thing you must know about Monotonix: They don't do stages. Then, the camera swings to the left, where drummer Haggai Fershtma n stands, holding flaming drumsticks in the air. Yes, flaming drumsticks. Fershtma n runs to his drum kit and begins playing the drums, setting the kit itself on fire. Someone starts throwing some kind of liquid on the crowd. Singer Ami Shalev then leaps over the kit and into the crowd.

Chaos erupts. For the rest of the song, it's hard to tell exactly what is happening. Is that a trash can over Fershtma n's head? Whose near-naked ass was that?

"You hit my girlfriend in the head with a trash can, and as much as I love her, you were still the best fucking band I've seen in ages," one fan wrote on Monotonix's MySpace page.

This says a lot about the rock 'n' roll of Monotonix. It's the kind of rock that doesn't need more than just one guitar, one singer and one torn-apart and blazing drum kit; it's the kind of rock that gets in your face and dumps alcohol on you. (Yes, they've been known to do that at shows: They take your frosty mug of ale and then dump it on you. No questions asked.) It's the kind of rock 'n' roll that usually happens in America--which is why it's interesting that Monotonix hail from Tel Aviv, Israel, a place better known for its discothèques than its vibrant underground rock scene.

This has a lot to do with why Monotonix perform the way they do, Shalev explained

"We felt that people in rock shows in Israel don't let themselves go and do whatever they want to do, really, from the heart, in any way, physically or emotionally or anything," he said. "We thought that maybe we could try to do it. It's not a matter of practicing; it's a matter of point of view and state of mind."

To change the point of view and state of mind, Monotonix decided to play on the floor, with the audience, rather than above them. "It should be all the time at the eye level," explained Shalev.

This kind of thing makes total sense to American rock fans, because rock is all about complete abandon. Therefore, Monotonix have found a home away from home in the rock clubs and bars of the United States.

"In America, people understand that rock 'n' roll should let you free," said Shalev. "It's nature; it's in the blood, and when we're here, we can feel it in the air."

Monotonix felt it in the air at Seattle's Bumbershoot festival last year, when the plug was pulled four songs into their set.

"That's a very, very memorable show for me," said Shalev. "Four songs in Seattle, in the city of rock 'n' roll, and they cut us. The fire marshal, she told us what we could do and what we were not allowed to do. It wasn't in our hands; the crowd started to do things she wasn't happy with, and she cut the show after four songs. ... For me, it was kind of surprising. If they cut you in Seattle--I don't want to say it, but it means you're doing something impressive."

There's footage of that show on YouTube, and it looks lethargic in comparison to the Austin show. Heck, nothing was even on fire.

Considering Monotonix's legendary live shows, it makes sense for critics to lament the relative lack of energy on Body Language. But as Shalev points out, recording is a completely different thing from a live show. For one, there's no fire.

"A live show is, well, it's kind of one moment of people gathering together, being in the same vibe ... and, of course, in a live show, you've got the visual side," Shalev said. "In a record, you (have to) capture the vibe ... for the living room, and it's made to fit for you even in the morning, even in the night, even when you're drunk or when you're sober. It's more complicated."

Even if the record may not be as balls-out crazy as flaming drumsticks or flying trash cans, it's still six songs of beautiful, unfiltered, reckless abandon, with drums and guitar. No bass, because, as Shalev said, "bass players stink. And they're always late for rehearsals, and they take room in the car, and we don't want to share ... the money."

But before you write off Monotonix as so rock 'n' roll that they're quick to sneer at people as innocent as bass players, Shalev added, "I don't want to insult any bass player, but for us, it's working all right."

Monotonix are currently set up in New Orleans, where they're rehearsing and writing songs for their next record.

As for whether or not there will be fire at their show at Club Congress ... that's hard to say.

"We don't do it without asking," said Shalev. "And if we're allowed to do it, we see if it's not too crowded, and if it's not too crowded, and we feel that it's not dangerous, we do it. If it's too dangerous or something like that, we don't do it."

So we can have our rock 'n' roll and live to tell about it, too.

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