Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback celebrates tonsure rock
Few passions are more reckless than those of the '60s garage-rock completist, so that just about any band that had one good song on a Nuggets compilation automatically becomes somebody's idea of way better than those boring, overrated Beatles. Still, the era did have its tragically overlooked acts, few more so than the so-called "anti-Beatles" whose brief career is chronicled in Dietmar Post and Lucia Palacios' documentary Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback.
The group originally came together as five US Army enlistees posted to Germany at the height of the Cold War. After their service stints ended, they decided to stick around as yet another "beat music" group covering Top 40 hits at clubs at which point they were approached by Karl-H. Remy and Walther Nieman, two locals steeped in advertising design and conceptual art. They were looking to basically cast a band in a project whose packaging from sound to attire was already worked out.
Thus just when the world was starting to grow out its hair, string love beads, and sing folk harmonies about loving your fellow humans, the Monks were something else entirely: five guys clad in stark black suits with noose-like bolos, making nervous minimalist music that was "too little too fast" for comfort (though still danceable). Lead vocals caterwauled, backing ones were in unison. Percussion (played "with a certain amount of military discipline," the Fleshtones' Peter Zaremba observes) consisted of pounded tom-toms plus harshly strummed banjo and Farfisa organ bleats; bass was cranked, guitar distorted. Staccato, nonsensical lyrics like "Hey I hate you with a passion /But call me!" trashed any pretense of romanticism.
These hard little pellets of avant-pop would be later considered by some "an early form of heavy metal," though Monks more closely anticipated the likes of the Contortions and Devo. Incredibly, they were doing this stuff in 1965.
Needless to say, popular acclaim did not ensue. Forty years later, reuniting for their first US gigs, the erstwhile Monks recall being actively "hated" by most audiences whenever they left their Hamburg home base. "Monk music" and its visual presentation was alienating even to the musicians themselves. They quit in 1967, returning to a United States drastically changed from the one they'd left six years before. All were amazed when the band's tiny recorded output started accruing cult adulation in the post-punk era.
The Transatlantic Feedback is a great '60s flashback, as well as a comeback saga of sorts. Original Monk bassist Eddie Shaw will be in attendance at the Red Vic's opening night shows.
MONKS: THE TRANSATLANTIC FEEDBACK
Fri/14-Mon/17, 7:15, 9:25 (also Sat/15-Sun/16, 2, 4:15), $6$9
Red Vic, 1727 Haight, SF