Israeli Cock Rockers Monotonix Bring Uncontrolled Chaos to Respectable Street

The cover art for Monotonix's recent full-length Where Were You When It Happened? is a crotch-shot of two fists tearing open an unzipped denim fly. Someone has probably sneaked your camera into the bathroom and taken this sort of picture as a prank. But in this case, bursting from the pants seam are three scuzzy Israeli gentlemen comically aligned in a bushy phallus formation, frontman Ami Shalev's index finger shooting up suggestively high. What it looks like is a Spinal Tap art-directed sequel to Sticky Fingers. What it boasts, with zero embarrassment, is COCK ROCK.

"It's the most... [pause] fun... [pause] place in the human body," Shalev explains over the phone from Israel. He is attempting — despite the jarring conversational delays of a hiccupping international phone connection and the hesitant wording that befits a man whose first language isn't English — to explain why his band chose this particularly memorable, vivid, and "flirty" (his word) image for the trio's first full-length. It's their second Drag City release after the 2008 EP Body Language. "It seems to have kind of represented the band and the album. You know, colorful, a little bit sexy."

Truth is, the "colorful" illustration, this garage-mewl of a release, the eight songs held within — they all don't matter. Monotonix's recordings are Playboy articles: worthy secondary features almost always eclipsed by raw distraction, a relentlessly entertaining live show. Live, the band is a furiously pulverizing storm of sleaze-rock high jinks and impressive aerial feats, including rafter-swinging, two-man somersaults, drink-flinging, beer showers, choreographed fire, trash-can lobbing, and crowd-surf drumming (with uplifted snares and everything). You do not go to a Monotonix show to see what they play; you go to see what they do.

Come hang with Monotonix.
Josh Sisk
Come hang with Monotonix.

Location Info

Map

Respectable Street

518 Clematis St.
West Palm Beach, FL 33401

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: West Palm Beach

Details

Monotonix, with Surfer Blood. 9 p.m. Wednesday, January 27, at Respectable Street, 518 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. Tickets cost $7; age 18 and up. 561-832-9999; click here.

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Most of their shows begin on the floor, with the audience. Shalev, a curly-maned lion of a frontman, almost always ends up shirtless, in shorts and sneakers, his squiggly rug of chest hair as much an identifying characteristic as the sharply accented consonants of his faux-metal roar. Depending on the available resources, he will, at exaggeratedly unpredictable intervals, dangle from the ceiling, ascend street signs, climb trees, leap onto bartops, bite guitar necks, balance on barricades, scale fences, launch trash cans into the air like beach balls, French-kiss strangers, and place the microphone between his pale buttcheeks, as if it's singing. All of this is improvised. (Except when fire is involved.) "The best ideas come in a minute," he insists.

There's obviously tomfoolery at play here, a commitment to theatrical absurdity, a bawdy sense of mischief. One of Monotonix's recurring live gags involves Shalev endlessly terrorizing drummer Haggai Fershtman, eerily a dead ringer for Borat, by climbing on his back, stealing beer from the audience to pour on his cymbals, and emptying overflowing trash cans on his head while Fershtman heroically manages not to miss a beat. It's a kind of circus-clown ruse that borders on slapstick, yet it's executed so deliberately that it never falls into the dreaded trespasses of irony.

There's also nothing ironic about Monotonix's music. Cock rock is generally used as snootily derisive shorthand for guitar-solo wankery and specifically masculine willful ignorance. "I prefer it," Shalev insists. It is a fair description of both Body Language and Where Were You When It Happened?, though "garage-scuzz," "blues-fuzz," or "Thin Lizzy without melodies" would also do. Guitarist Yonatan Gat can actually wail, which is perhaps why he's the least prominent member of the band live — he's actually, y'know, focused on his instrument.

On "I Can't Take It Anymore," Shalev strangely adopts the bellowing of Superunknown-era Chris Cornell, but for most of the record, his voice is low in the mix, as if he's singing at the end of a tunnel. This is probably the closest one can get to re-creating Monotonix's live experience, when you can barely hear his voice because he's too busy exposing his hairy ass or lighting something on fire. You'd be forgiven for thinking the revved-up two-minute thrash-serenade "Spit It in Your Face" is a love song, but it isn't.

"It looks weird if I say we have a sense of humor, but I think that our shows kind of show that we do," says Shalev. And unlike bodysuit-flaunting '70s-FM-rock jokesters like the Darkness, Monotonix defiantly isn't satire. Hyperbole, perhaps. Parody, no. Shalev really has Ronnie James Dio hair and really does share an uncanny resemblance to Ted Nugent as captured on the cover of Cat Scratch Fever. "I'm 44 years old," he explains. "You can't look like me or act like me if you don't have a little bit of a sense of humor."

You also can't look or act like him without occasional unpleasant consequences. Like injury: Four years ago, an errant garbage-can toss in Brooklyn dislocated Shalev's shoulder. "Never stopped the show. But it hurt like hell." Or bureaucratic interference: At Bumbershoot in 2008, event staff cut the band's power after four songs (crowd-surfing wasn't allowed). In Toronto later that year, three cop cars were waiting outside after the show. Legendarily, Monotonix is banned from most Israeli clubs.

The band doesn't consider abridged performances successes or failures, just an occupational hazard. "Sometimes we feel bad that the show stopped, because people came to see us and we only played five or six songs," Shalev admits. "If the police think they should stop the show, I'm going with them. I'm never gonna try to do riot or turn the crowd against the police. The police do what they do because of security issues. I'm with them, I understand it; I'm not angry."

 
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