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Monolith remembered 

The result was a kind of condensed South by Southwest Festival

While discussing his book about bluesman Robert Johnson, music historian Peter Guralnick once commented that the most interesting music always takes place on the margins.

Such was the case at last weekend's Monolith Festival, which was celebrating its second year. Some 60 artists or, as perpetually droll Night Marchers frontman John Reis put it, a "cavalcade of stars" careened across five stages in the scenic splendor of the Red Rocks Amphitheatre.

The result was a kind of condensed South by Southwest Festival: A great place to see artists of all stripes and, for those who wanted to scratch below the surface of mainstage headliners like Vampire Weekend and DeVotchKa, an enticing indicator of what lies on the pop music horizon.

Here then, is a quick rundown of a few personal under-the-radar favorites:

click to enlarge The Night Marchers - LINDSAY RICKMAN
  • Lindsay Rickman
  • The Night Marchers

Cut Copy

Admittedly, this Melbourne, Australia dance-pop group deteriorated midway through its set: Frontman Dan Whitford slipped into a vocal impersonation of Depeche Mode's David Gahan, while pretty much everyone but the rhythm section forgot that their instruments were meant to be played. (Thank God for those sequencers and backing tapes.) Still, the group's first four songs made up for it, perfectly blending "Rock of the '80s" melodies with '90s rave rhythms. With just two albums to their name, Cut Copy are worth keeping an eye on.

Night Marchers

Former Rocket from the Crypt frontman Reis knows how to do punk rock, and his San Diego-based Night Marchers proved it with a ferociously infectious set that actually managed to outshine his earlier band's legendary live shows. Drawn entirely from the group's debut album, See You in Magic, the show was crammed with instant anthems that continued to ring in listeners' heads (and ears) for days to come.

Silversun Pickups

I'd always thought of this L.A. foursome as a kind of throwback to the wispy vocals and pop melodies of the Paisley Underground. Was I wrong! Imagine the Smashing Pumpkins with a much better (yet no less eccentric) singer and far more compelling songs. Frontman Brian Aubert shifts from a whisper to a scream at the drop of a chorus, and when he does, it's clearly primal urge rather than pop affectation. He plays guitar with similar bouts of ferocity, coaxing feedback from the stage monitor and then lurching back from it at just the right moment. For a band that was playing dives in L.A.'s Silverlake district not that long ago, a chance to perform a moonlit set on the Red Rocks main stage was no small thing, and they lived up to the honor with an arena-sized sound that sacrificed none of the nuance.

click to enlarge LINDSAY RICKMAN
  • Lindsay Rickman

The Fratellis

Straight out of Glasgow comes this Scot-rock outfit that calls to mind the pre-classic rock of early Faces and the enlightened Brit pop of Shack, and adds a few surprises all its own. Rising to prominence in 2006, the Fratelli Brothers (there's three of 'em, plus an unrelated pianist) were quickly proclaimed Britain's best new band by NME. Luckily, they managed to survive that particular kiss of death, and are currently among the former empire's most promising acts.

Port O'Brien

Interviewed last week in the Indy, this Californian/Alaskan indie sensation is best known for its brain-infiltrating "I Woke Up Today." Naturally, the band closed its set with it. More unnaturally, it had brought along a massive box filled with washboards, pots, pans and various kitchen utensils, enough for a couple dozen audience members to climb onstage and clang along. Dumb, yes, but somehow ingenious.

Mickey Avalon

And then there was Mickey. I'm personally not a huge fan of the Hollywood rapper's shtick, which is essentially being one-third of the Beastie Boys accompanied by a pair of moonlighting strippers. But you gotta hand it to a white rapper who writes songs about Jane Fonda and his own dick. Then again, maybe you don't.

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