Here's another one of these little object lessons upon which I do so dearly love to lecture. Monument to No One are putting the work in, and I don't just mean when it comes to their songs, which are varied and interesting. I see people wearing their t-shirts at shows. Sure, some of them might be members of the band, but it still counts. I see their stickers in men's rooms. I came out of the Sunny Day Real Estate show and there was their drummer, handing out free CD's and getting the word out about his band. The extra effort that they have made to make people aware of the music they are creating makes a difference. Nothing comes for free, unless you're some kind of preternatural native genius, and if there's any of those playing free shows in Austin on Wednesday nights I haven't yet encountered them.
If I wasn't so impressed by MTNO's efforts to do their utmost for their band, I might have left their show last night early. A broken string and a busted pedal, on the first song, slowed their momentum and left their stage sound treble-heavy and ear-piercing for their next several songs post-restringing. Drummer Dan Skarbek kept things together during this difficult period with solid time (much better than on the self-released CD), even though the muddy sound left the bass inaudible and Eli Slate struggling with his vocals. Because they work hard and they know what they ought to sound like, Monument to No One kept it together and by the time they hit their signature tune, "Planetary," they were downright killing it. The way that they can bury their guitars in overlapping tides of effects then snap back into consonance on cue is impressive. Slate and Steve Anderson back to back churning out harmonized leads is a rock spectacle out of all proportion with Headhunter's tiny stage space.
The degree to which their sound has matured even since the recording of their CD is impressive. Skarbek and bassist Mike McKinnon are carving out their own place in the songs, and when the whole band really gets together -- or pulls out just for a second so both guitars can go "screee!" -- it's exciting to hear and fun to watch. They still have some work to do finding a way to keep their music both loud and audible. This is powerful stuff and it should be presented at high volume. But some thought needs to be put into how the guitars are amplified and equalized so that when the bass ventures upward the audience isn't totally buried in layers of midrange. Likewise, Skarbek's drumming, which has good meter and a slightly Nick Mason-like behind-the-beat style, would have more impact were there more space in the sound field for his cymbal work to ring out clearly. Slate's vocals sound better when he's singing confidently from his chest rather than straining in his head voice; again I think that's more of an issue that stems from the sound mix.
By the time they closed things out they seemed like a different band than the one that had jammed awkwardly while Anderson changed strings on his SG. They were moving around, rocking out, finally showing some outward confidence. You like to see constant forward progression in developing bands and that was this set in a nutshell. Good work, guys.