The older I get, the more appealing the idea of comfortable seating in gig venues becomes. This evening, however, I am militant on the issue of furnishings – in particular, all venues playing host to Mono should provide armchairs, chaise longues and therapy couches for members of the audience who feel they may be overcome by the music.
Digital is not the ideal venue for live music for a number of reasons, but the principal problem is one of architecture: designed and laid out as a dance music club and built into the arches of Brighton’s famous seafront prom, line-of-sight and acoustics are an issue. After the dreadful caterwauling of a support band whose name I purposely neglected to enquire after, I had concerns that Mono‘s delicate material would be mangled by the futuristic-looking PA stacks.
My concerns were mercifully unfounded; tonight, Mono sound incredible.
The caveat there, of course, is that I already think Mono sound pretty incredible on record. Readers familiar with their post-rock soundscapes will know that the quiet parts are equally (if not more) important than the loud parts, and bands who rely on such dynamic subtleties often suffer in the live arena. To whom the kudos should be passed – the sound techs, the PA designers or just Mono themselves – is unclear, but the music is anything but.
It starts with two intertwined glockenspiel loops and a faint distant roar of echo-drenched guitar; Mono‘s set unsurprisingly leans heavily toward the material on their forthcoming album Hymn to the Immortal Wind, and lead track “Ashes in the Snow” is an ideal beginning to our journey, the band slowly but relentlessly building up to a tsunami of tone, the sounds moving and growing with the implacable pace of natural forces. In stark comparison to the public perception of Japanese bands as madcap translators of Western cultural styles into frantically hyper-real manga cartoons of themselves, Mono stay speechless, performing with stately restraint and imperial dignity. Nothing must be hurried; majesty is deeply interwoven with patience.
Inevitably, this evening’s audience still harbours the inevitable handful of fools who insist on whooping in the quiet sections, leading me to conclude that either music isn’t quite as universal a language as I had previously thought, or that any significant statistical sample of human beings – regardless of cultural commonalities – will always contain a vocal minority of idiots. Mono themselves are unfazed, however, and the bulk of the crowd are attentive, having seemingly absorbed the dignified demeanour of the band before arriving.
Literary critics speak of the unspoken contract between author and reader, a calculated agreement to allow one’s sense and expectations to be toyed with. Music carries a similar contract, and in the case of post-rock bands it is a contract similar to that demanded by poetry: in exchange for your close attention, your more rarefied emotions will be manipulated, stroked and strummed.
Looking around the room about half way through Mono‘s set, you can see that contract being played out. Many people are stood still but for a leisurely nod or sway, their eyes closed, beatific smiles on their lips. Physically, they’re stood in a dingy black-walled drinking den in a faded and reglossed seaside resort on England’s south coast; in their minds, they’re flying through cloudscapes and across mountain ranges, a world of sonic geography spinning slowly below them.
Hyperbole? Well, possibly, but I’d use the defence of poetic license; the magic of music demands that we talk of it in metaphor, and Mono‘s material comes with qualities of epic scope that only nature itself can accurately reflect. There is something cold in Mono‘s music, but it’s not an inhuman coldness, not a bloodless chill; it’s more like the mint-blue rush of mountain air filling your lungs, or the thrilling shock of river water on your sun-warmed skin. That glacial freshness and altitude is reflected in their song titles: “Silent Flight, Sleeping Dawn”; “Pure as Snow”; “The Battle to Heaven”. This is a band with its eyes and hearts turned skywards, and they’ll take you as far as they can go.
Arguably, the most telling facet of tonight’s show is its end. But not the applause and calls for more, nor the the shy smiles of the band as they bow out and leave the stage; no, what’s most telling is the way the audience files out quietly and orderly into the night. Some live bands stoke the inner fires into a bright blaze that burns out fast, but Mono bank the embers and prepare you for the long cold dark. Go see them play… and don’t forget to request a comfy seat.