Reinventing Spaceland: Monotonix, The Mae Shi, and Anavan, 4/10

5 05 2009

Things have been busy around Songs About Radios these days. In the last few weeks, I’ve been to Boston, L A, Coachella, and Chicago twice. The longest I’ve been in one place at a time since February has been two and a half weeks, and I spent a good portion of that time with a surprise visitor from out of town. Plus my computer recently exploded, and I’ve only just finished setting up my new laptop. Fortunately no data was lost (I think), but all of this amounts to an explanation of why the posts have been a little light over the past month or so. Songs About Radios isn’t going anywhere – we’ve just been experiencing some technical difficulties…

Anyway, with a guest in town earlier this month, what better to do than catch a show? While the week’s concert schedule offered a variety of interesting options, not the least of which was the dear to my heart Marissa Nadler, we decided to choose spectacle over sentiment and check out Monotonix, the Mae Shi, and Anavan at Spaceland. I had seen Monotonix’s at this past summer’s Hideout Block Party, and had a sense of what I was in for, but the indoor dynamics of the Spaceland show was more intense than I could have anticipated. The Mae Shi, who I had been meaning to check out live for a while now, also made use of the venue in interesting ways, and the entirely off my radar Anavan delivered an energetic set with a commanding stage presence.

Monotonix – Body Language (Download) (Buy It)″

The Mae Shi – Power to the Power. Bite 2 (Download) (Buy It)″

Anavan – Boom (Download) (Buy It)″

The key to this show was performance as transformation of space. Anavan’s spastic frontman got things started by running through the crowd and cozying up with individual members of the audience. At one point, I think he grabbed my friend and ordered her, “Talk to someone you don’t know.” The Mae Shi brought a similar level of enthusiasm to their set. They also brought a parachute:

The parachute created an insular little world within the larger venue. Nearly, but not entirely, covering the area in front of the stage, it divided the space underneath from the space outside, delimiting a central mass of fan joined by a shared experience unavailable to the rest of the crowd. Cut off from a view of the stage for two to three songs, all we could see instead was each other, the sea of bewildered faces and arms raised to the air to keep the parachute from collapsing on our heads.

For the Mae Shi’s set, this sort of spectacle enhanced the musical performance, but the music and the stage remained the center of focus. For Monotonix, however, the music and the stage became mere elements of an eccentric performance that moved through the crowd and off into the peripheries of the venue.

The show began on stage, with Monotonix’s frontman slowly walking towards the crowd, spying back and forth as if about to embark upon a journey out into the amorphous and mysterious territory of the venue. Leading his guitarist by the arm, he stepped from the stage, walking forward, lying down, his feet finally emerging, held upside down by whoever was nearby. Drums were passed over the heads of the audience, and the drummer began playing from the middle of the floor. The crowd pack in densely and moved as an unstable mass as the frontman climbed up on the drums to crowd surf. Nothing unites a crowd like trying to keep a hairy, sweaty Israeli man in short shorts afloat while avoiding an accidental handful of ball sweat…

As the show progressed, the crowd surfing got more intense, as audience members got involved and the frontman began hanging from the rafters. The drums were raised up above the crowd and Monotonix began to play drums while crowd surfing. At one point, still tightly packed, we were ordered to sit and then given a complex set of instructions on when to stand up, when to set back down, and when to scream. By the end of the show, the frontman had stripped down to a thong and stuffed it with his shirt. Then without warning the show moved off the main floor, towards the bar, and out the door into the tiny entry hall to the venue. In the end, we returned to the floor and ultimately to the stage, but the stage had been transformed. No longer the sacred space separating artist from audience, the stage had been taken over by the crowd.