They've Got Chutzpah

Nov 11 2014 | 01:48 AM

    “All of us in the band really, really, really like classic rock: Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Grand Funk,” Monotonix singer Ami Shalev explains through a thick Israeli accent. “But we try to give it something from us. I don’t think that we do what you’d call classic classic rock.”

    Realizing that he’s just coined a phrase, Shalev begins to laugh heartily.

    “I just thought of that just now! ‘Classic-classic rock!’”

    Unabashed about their love for all things Thin Lizzy and Deep Purple, the members of Monotonix, a guitar-drums-vocals trio from Tel Aviv, have nonetheless managed to whip indie rock audiences across this country into a swooning lather. Scene icons like Will Oldham and Kramer, who produced the band’s self-titled debut, count themselves as avid supporters. Reviews from Monotonix’s previous American road trip earlier this year reflect a sense of collective jaw-dropping. Once you see the band, the appeal immediately becomes startlingly clear, for Monotonix’s live show truly justifies reviving the dead cliché of rock music as transcendence. And the sheer joy the band leaves in its wake—not to mention its firm juggler’s grip on entertainment value, physical comedy and killer rock riffs (and we’re talking killer)—has struck an obvious chord with an audience that normally prefers to wash its classic rock down with a heavy dose of irony or keep its cravings for the stuff in the closet altogether.

    I spoke to Shalev a few hours after the band landed in Newark Airport to begin a 70-date American tour—and just one day after performing six times in the same day at a festival in Tilburg, Netherlands. He and his bandmates sound buoyed by the positive momentum building around them as they prepare to ply their trade on American shores for the fourth time. It’s probably been a while since you’ve been inclined to drink beer out of a frontman’s filthy, sweat- and grime-soaked sneaker, but you may find yourself ready and eager to imbibe if Shalev makes a communal running-shoe offering to the Knitting Factory crowd this Friday night at the CMJ Music Marathon. You may also find yourself called upon to play drums, or some part of the drumset, during one of the many times that Ran Shimoni disassembles his kit and reassembles it in various parts of the room. And you can count on having to dodge guitarist Yonatan Gat as he criss-crosses the crowd.

    Monotonix actually plays in the crowd rather than in front of it. And Gat’s super-thick, yet startlingly clear Jimi-Hendrix-meets-Godzilla guitar tone is the instrument by which the band brings the arena-rock experience within your immediate reach and, because of the energy level relative to the scale, makes it more explosive and cathartic than anything you could ever see on a bigger stage.

    Shalev insists that none of the physical elements of the band’s act are choreographed in advance. Watching Gat run around all night, it’s a miracle that he doesn’t trip over his guitar cable. In fact, he and Shimoni never seem to miss a beat even as the crowd flails and Shalev, a diminutive, long-haired dervish, jumps all over them and their equipment.

    “In the beginning, it was difficult,” Shalev says,” but we trained for it. Right now, we control it very good. It’s not a problem for us.”

    He compares Monotonix to a soccer team and explains that its unbridled enthusiasm goes back to its initial rehearsals in 2005.

    “When we started the band, we wanted people to have the feeling that they can do anything during the show,” he says. “That was the vibe we felt. We started dancing and moving during the rehearsals, but we don’t think about these things. This music gives us so much energy.”

    Monotonix’s passion especially stands out here in the States, where musical release is most often equated with destruction and danger. But Shalev downplays any connection between the band’s inviting spirit and its Israeli origins.

    “In Israel, they call it chutzpah,” he explains. “We come with it, but we’re still different from other Israeli bands. People there are more shy. People here are more free.”

    Then, without a hint of irony, he adds, “Here, it’s more rock and roll.”

    Oct. 19, Knitting Factory, 74 Leonard St. (betw. B’way & Church St.), 212-219-3132; first act 8:30, Monotonix at 12:30, $14/$16.