As Monotonix tear through their bare-bones, Thin Lizzy riff-rock at a disused Milwaukee warehouse — a basement show in every way, except that it’s on the first floor — I’m afraid my pants are going to catch fire. Not figuratively, like the bassless Israeli trio are so hot they’re igniting my loins, but literally: Moving from one side of the beer-soaked venue to the other, the band actually set the concrete floor ablaze, and singer Ami Shalev can’t decide whether he should squeeze out more lighter fluid or climb up to the ceiling.
This is a common occurrence for the most exciting live band in rock’n’roll. Monotonix perform — about 200 shows a year since forming three years ago — almost exclusively on club and house floors rather than stages, with Shalev, guitarist Yonatan Gat, 25, and Borat doppelgänger drummer Haggai “Gever” Fershtman, 35, coaxing audiences to join the feral celebration.
“I’m trying to get people laughing and dancing and wild,” says Shalev, 42, who combines Dio’s stature, Doug Henning’s hair and mustache, and David Yow’s wildeyed presence. “That’s the purpose, to get people free. The rules at a rock concert say, ‘The band is here. You need to claps your hands.’ We want people to have a good time without any rules.”
Their English isn’t perfect, but Monotonix speak the international language of unbridled, fuck-it-all chutzpah, ten-story snarling guitar, and an unwavering dedication whether facing a crowd of five or 500. “In the beginning, our shows were empty. We could run all over the room and[imitates a power slide]…How do you call itin English?” asks Gat.
Fershtman: “Like when a car stops on its brakes.”
Shalev: “Like Starsky and Gut.”
Monotonix’s debut EP, Body Language (Drag City), can’t possibly bottle that intensity — the sweaty aroma, Shalev hoisted above the crowd for entire songs — but it’s great fun nonetheless. The band will go into the studio again later this year to try to capture their frenzied essence. “Our goal is that the recorded music will drive people crazy like the show does,” says Gat. “Like somebody could listen in his living room and freak out.”
- At a show in Knoxville, Tennessee, a fan found the band’s secret stash of lighter fluid — and set himself on fire. Shalev promptly poured a beer on him.
- Shalev claims that he developed his frontman insanity not via rock’n’roll, but by playing soccer.