Mono Brings the Noise

September 29th, 2009

Mono – The Bowery Ballroom – September 28, 2009

Before the Tokyo-based quartet Mono took the stage at The Bowery Ballroom last night, one by one, audience members dutifully began to put in earplugs. Savvy fans know that the band favors extreme volume, and I suspect even those who do not typically exercise such caution had hit up Duane Reade for some Hearos on their way to the show.

Mono’s sound is an interesting hybrid. While certainly a rock band in the great, straightforward sense of the term—a penchant for eardrum-rattling performances full of thrashing, shredding and writhing with their guitars, plus the stamp of legendary producer Steve Albini on their recent work. On the other hand, Mono’s songs consist of varied movements with precise and layered instrumentation, more structurally akin to classical and chamber music compositions, often clocking in at more than 10 minutes. On their most recent album, Hymn to the Immortal Wind, Mono actually enlisted a full orchestra to round out their vision.

The set opener, “Ashes in the Snow,” illustrated this amalgamation: The song began with a twinkly glockenspiel à la Sigur Rós, added some delicate, interweaving guitar strains and then slowly built to a heavy layer of fast, fuzzy strumming. At once, guitar became axe, and the bass was thunderous enough to feel pumping inside your chest. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any more intense, I noticed the giant gong onstage. As the epic music continued, at one point the guitars became so otherworldly and distorted that they were reminiscent of the sounds you might hear in a movie as the characters travel into another dimension. Although time and space seemed to remain intact when I stepped outside, after witnessing Mono’s transfixing music, I imagine many of us left on a slightly different sphere of consciousness than when we had arrived—or at the very least, with some more ringing in our ears. —Alena Kastin