Some brilliant ideas come from flashes of unexpected genius, something that could only be the work of a special mind. It takes another kind of subtle intellectual leap to make a seemingly obvious great concept turn from an idle insight into a reality.
Located on the outskirts of Denver and made internationally famous by live albums from such leading lights as Dave Matthews and John Tesh, the outrageously beautiful Red Rocks has been screaming out for an underground/indie-style music festival for many years. I could have told you that, but thanks to the tireless work of an elite group of Colorado scenesters, the dream is now a reality.
Given the extreme suitability of the venue (“I’m not even an outdoor person,” Spoon’s Britt Daniel mused from the stage, “but this is amazing”) and a September date angled to catch both the end of the summer touring season and the beginning of fall’s, 2007’s Monolith Festival is unlikely to be the last.
Festival headliners the Flaming Lips brought a suitable amount of pomp and ceremony to the proceedings with a set that began with Wayne Coyne navigating across the crowd in an oversized translucent hamster ball. Ever rock’s perfectly ethical antihero, Coyne sacrificed musical continuity in his band’s set to make sure everyone in attendance left Red Rocks with consideration in mind of the power for change such a large collected audience could go out and spread in the world.
Other Saturday highlights included a sizzling twilight performance from London’s Art Brut that inspired a mostly unfamiliar crowd to stand screaming and cheering for 10 minutes at its close and a friendly, rambling solo set from Gomez’s Ian Ball, who cheerfully introduced his proposed theme song for the TV show “Private Practice” with the sober admission that it was likely to be rejected.
Friday headliners Cake didn’t drop the ball in front of an audience primed by an overloaded day of music, engaging in their own form of social commentary with a cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” in their distinctive style. Denver’s own Everything Absent Or Distorted stepped up to the honor of opening festivities on the main stage with a sloppy, enthusiastic brace of songs featuring a lineup expanded even beyond the collective’s usual eight members.
A recurring theme over the weekend was bands used to playing in dimly lit, smoky clubs seizing their moment on the larger stage. Ghostland Observatory, despite their economical two-man lineup, seemed utterly at home at Red Rocks, strutting as if they owned the place. Kings Of Leon and the Decemberists also made their cases as arena rock acts in very different fashion, with the undeniable cool of the brothers Followill radiating off the stage as expected but the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy also proving to be a mesmerizing storyteller and performer despite dressing like Garrison Keillor.
Dozens more, including Brian Jonestown Massacre, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Ian Cooke, Bela Karoli, CAT-A-TAC, Das EFX, the Editors, Born In The Flood and YACHT made the Monolith Festival worthy of its name.