Diet of Worms
of The Monks reunion gig)
Monks' Moment, Recaptured
by Jon Pareles from THE NEW YORK TIMES
Monday, November 8, 1999
Jubilation greeted the American debut of the Monks,
who played their first show since 1967 on Friday night.
The reunited band still had the ornery ferocity that
made its 1966 album, "Black Monk Time,"
a touchstone of contentious, aberrant rock.
Monks were headliners at the three-night Cavestomp
'99 at Westbeth Theater Center. Cavestomp resurrects
obscure bands from a beloved moment in rock history:
the mid-1960's, when young Americans reacted to the
British Invasion by letting their hair grow, plugging
in guitars and playing their own leering, hopped-up,
technically deficient reaction to the British version
of American rhythm-and-blues. Soon psychedelic drugs
showed up to warp the music further.
current garage-rock revivalists opening for the 1960's
originals, Cavestomp showed off the contrast between
newer bands adhering to primitivism - as a heartfelt
return to basics or a deliberate, raucous joke - and
the old bands making things up for themselves. The
headliner on Saturday was the Chocolate Watchband;
on Sunday, the Standells.
Monks were radical oddballs even in the 1960s. Formed
by five American G.I.'s stationed in West Germany,
the band started out playing Chuck Berry and surf-rock
as the Torquays, but mutated once its members left
the Army. They started wearing black with nooses around
their necks like string ties: they shaved tonsures
into their heads. Their songs turned negative and
had them shouting "I hate you with a passion,
baby," chanting nonsense syllables or blurting
antiwar sentiments: "We don't like the atomic
bomb. Stop it, stop it!"
band stripped down its music, discarding most melody
in favor of seething chords above the unison of Roger
Johnston's simple, relentless drumbeat and Eddie Shaw's
bass lines. Songs pounded and oompahed, then sprouted
an incongruous harmony chorus or veered into a new
key. Gary Burger's lead vocals rose to reedy, discordant
interjections that anticipated Pere Ubu and the Sex
Pistols; he discovered feedback when he leaned his
guitar against an amplifier. Larry Clark, on organ,
used glissandos and clusters, blotches and swoops
of sound; Dave Day scrabbled at a six-string banjo,
simultaneously tinny and vicious.
Westbeth, the Monks once again wore black shirts and
nooses; their tonsures looked less startling on balding
pates. Mr. Burger announced that he had wrecked his
voice during rehearsals, and he sang only the lower
vocal lines. Mike Fornatale, a frequent correspondent
on the band's Web site, took over the higher parts,
fervently reproducing the recordings with an expression
of abashed incredulity.
untouched by time or fashion, the band tore into songs
from "Black Monk Time" (Infinite Zero) and
an album of demos from 1965, "Five Upstart Americans"
(Omplatten). Mr. Burger's lead guitar lines skidded
and wailed; Mr. Clark's organ shifted between staccato
chords and gusty dissonances. The music was a freshly
unearthed relic and it was still sharp to the touch.
Friday lineup also included a 15-minute set by the
Third Bardo, which released "I'm Five Years Ahead
of My Time" in 1967. The band's earnest manifestos
- about blown minds and the dawn of tomorrow - arrived
complete with buzzing, meandering lead guitar solos
that were not ahead of their time, but a vivid memory
CAVESTOMP! November 5-7, 1999
by Byron Coley from SPIN
Westbeth Theatre Centre, New York City The
beer was two dollars. Lenny Kaye was standing by the
bar. The band onstage was playing "Dirty Water."
If I didn't feel like such an achy old codger, I might
have imagined it was a Wednesday night at CBGB in
the fall of 1976 and that the band was another bunch
of boozers murdering classic '60s garage rock. But
it was the fall of 1999, and the band playing "Dirty
Water" was none other than the Standells, the
same group (more or less) that charted with the record
in November 1965. Go figure.
the wake of Beatlemania, vast hordes of unwashed American
teenagers took up musical instruments and used them
as cudgels to repel mop-topped foreigners. The garage
rock these kids produced had, at its best, such savage
simplicity that it regularly resurfaces as a kind
of mutable archetype for contemporary teen angst and
aggression. The annual Cavestomp! Events, paens to
this impulse, features a conglomeration of graying
'60s proto-hepsters (the Standells), revisionist '70s
frat monsters (the Fleshtones), style-conscious '80s
power-poppers (the Vipers), and form-negating '90s
raunch merchants (Dead Moon).
year, the big draw was the return of the Monks, reunited
for the first time in 33 years. Formed in Germany
in 1964 by a cabal of former U.S. servicemen, the
Monks produced one legendary, almost impossibly agressive
LP, Black Monk Time, in 1966. Since then, the album
has drifted in and out of print like a lost black
whale, Yo La Tengo and the Fall have covered its songs,
and the Monks have become revered as mysterious nihil-punk
demigods. From where I stood, the band's closing-night
set was a transcendent experience. Onstage were five
grandfathers (all original members!) clad in black,
with the white rope belts and tonsures of their namesakes.
It seemed like they'd been frozen in time and transported
by military helicopter to the room. Dave Day's insane
decision to use his banjo as a lead instrument is
as unparalleled today as it was in 1964.
they surged through their set, playing the goofy dance-hall
numbers that kept them alive in German army bars,
as well as the incredibly dark love songs for which
they're best known ("Shut Up," "I Hate
You," "Complication"), a sense of disbelief
filled the club. People looked at each other, silently
asking "Can they be this good?" I saw such
presumed unflappables as Throbbing Gristle's Genesis
P-Orridge and Jim "Foetus" Thirlwell standing
slack-jawed, trying to figure out what it was the
Monks were doing. But I don't think it's replicable.
The Monks have that ineffable "it," and
man, is it beautiful. Hope you were there. Even if