by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
MONO is a four-piece ambient rock band from Japan that plays soaring all-instrumental compositions that are equal parts majesty and sorrow. The recipe is two guitars, a bassist who doubles on keyboards, and drums. It’s gorgeous, lush music that tries to replicate the density of orchestral music using rock instruments, and at its best moments, succeeds. A few songs sounded like the score from a 70 mm WWII epic, underlining scenes of burning buildings, diving airplanes, marches to victory and acres of graves. The music was dark and beautifully dismal; sad movements that combined to make an epic rock symphony.
While startlingly beautiful, MONO took the stage at around 9:30 and played for 90 minutes, which was about 60 minutes too long. Every song repeated the same quiet, build, crescendo formula, which fooled the audience into thinking “Well this has got to be the big finale,” only to have them start all over again. Since three of the musicians were seated and there was no variety in stage lighting, there wasn’t anything to see. After about 40 minutes I was in the back room playing No Fear pinball, with MONO providing the perfect heroic soundtrack as I hit one ramp after another.
Headliner The Album Leaf didn’t come on until after 11. I remember these guys from their shows at Sokol Underground nearly a decade ago. For the most part, their sound hasn’t changed much, though these days they sport a violin and frontman Jimmy LaValle provides vocals on a few of the songs. Their sound is still driven by the rhythms, whether electronic or created by drummer Dave LeBleu, who was amazing. Call it ambient rock if you want, there is a jazzy quality to what they do, though no one was improvising. Each song was like an individual set piece colored in shades of amber and gold.
Adding to the performance was film projection — sometimes video effects, a few found-film pieces — and LED bars that pulsed and changed colors in synch with the music. But in the end it was the musicians that made the show.
Remember when this kind of instrumental rock seemed fresh and exciting (who remembers Tristeza?)? It may no longer seem risky, but it’s no less enjoyable (in small doses).
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This solid week of rock shows continues tonight at Slowdown Jr. when Tennis returns, with Landing on the Moon opening. $12, 9 p.m.
Also tonight, Pueblo’s The Haunted Windchimes opens for John Klemmensen and the Party at The Sydney. First up is Underwater Dream Machine. 10:30, $5.
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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2012 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.