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Monotonix mania

The notorious shaggy Israelis return to “rattle your senses” and a few ass-mics. Will they recreate the legendary Gus’ Pub melee this Saturday?

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The last time you saw Ami Shalev, he was probably dumping a garbage can on his drummer's head. Or shoving a microphone up his ass. Or leaping off of a telephone pole in front of Gus' Pub. Or crowd surfing atop a bass drum.

Shalev's band Monotonix had quite the year in 2008, mowing down most of North America and Europe with rock shows that inevitably devolved into beautiful, beer-drenched chaos. Their Pop Explosion gig that year has gone down in infamy, with over 200 attendees and several police cruisers bearing witness to the fact that these Israelis party the hardest.

These days Shalev hangs out on a sun-drenched porch at home in Tel Aviv, writing songs and resting up for the band's return to North America (and Halifax this Saturday). The 44-year-old lives a quiet life at home---he's a family man with a baby on the way, and doesn't drink or smoke.

"When we're at home, we don't play shows," he says. "I rest, I do exercise, I eat good food, I ride bicycles, we see family and friends, that's it."

Shalev first got into rock 'n' roll when his parents bought him Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band at the age of nine. He says he's known his bandmates---guitarist Yonatan Gat and drummer Haggai Fershtman---for "a long, long time" and the three began an official formation in 2005. Shalev says from their first show onward, the band was leaping into the crowd, taking off its clothes and being generally disruptive.

"I never had to learn to be like that," Shalev says. "It's part of my personality. It came out of me very naturally."

After getting banned from Tel Aviv's few decent rock clubs, Monotonix began playing shows abroad, touring with the Silver Jews and playing festivals like SXSW. Word-of-mouth accounts and reams of positive press followed, along with trips to New Orleans and San Francisco to write and record Where Were You When it Happened?. The band is set to record new songs later this year in Chicago with Steve Albini and plans to debut many of them on tour. Despite the hairy, sloppy, cacophonous stage shows, Monotonix takes itself---and its music---very seriously.

"Music is the most important thing to me," Shalev says. "If it's honest, from the heart, it's real. That's what we want people to understand."

This being said, you probably couldn't find many attendees of Monotonix's HPX show who could tell you what the music actually sounded like. There was some drumming (before the kit was taken apart) and Shalev's voice, with its Ozzy Osbourne twang, merged nicely with Gat's chuggy guitars---when you could hear them over the screams of 200-plus people. Gat claims this is all part of the experience.

"I find it hard to believe that someone will like our show and not like the music, or vice versa," he writes in an email. "The music is the soundtrack to the mess, and the mess is just the visual aspect of the songs."

This time, Monotonix will be playing a larger venue, to people now familiar with the schtick. This weekend's performance will reveal whether the riotous nature of the Gus' show can be re-created. Shalev and Gat aren't worried.

"As long as people come to our shows and hopefully get an experience that rattles their senses or even changes the way they view something, then I'm happy," Gat says. "I don't really think about what people say about us or what we are known for."

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