The audience at Solar Culture last Saturday had thinned quite a bit by the time the USA is a Monster took the stage. The Brooklyn-based duo of Tom Hohmann, who plays drums and keyboards and sings--sometimes all at the same time--and Colin Langenus, the balding and dreadlocked guitarist and singer, seemed thrilled that anyone had stuck around at all. What they do isn't exactly all that accessible; though at times, it was thrilling.
The group represents the point where prog and math rock intersect, but allows for excursions of hypnotizing repetition, employs '80s American hardcore sing-shouting and uses noise as a weapon. Hohmann is immersed in American Indian culture, evident through his tribal drumming patterns and a song he wrote about Leonard Peltier ("God Is Red"), while Langenus uses an array of pedals to allow him to switch abruptly from heavy power-chord riffs to spidery leads. And the songs, many of which were extremely long, were all over the place via a series of passages that were often complicated on their own, but dizzying considering one song might contain 10 different segments. Unlike similar ADD-addled bands (Hella, etc.), they were smart enough to linger on each one just long enough to adjust to the groove before moving on to the next.
But clearly, most in attendance were there to see openers The Crowd (at one point, Hohmann thanked them for "um, bringing a crowd"). The band is a young quintet of Tucsonans who have quickly generated considerable buzz, and I'm happy to report the hype is justified.
They touch on myriad styles, from vaguely country pop to Queen-like bombast, from power ballads (without the cheesiness that implies) to surf-rock, while still managing to hang on to their own sense of musical identity--a difficult pop undercurrent is always there. The rhythm section is able and tight; the guitarists know the meaning of interplay; and singer Orin Shochat is a soulful crooner in the new school of indie-style, not unlike Cold War Kids' Nathan Willett or Ramesh Srivastava of Voxtrot (or hell, even Adam Levine from Maroon 5). Those bands (excluding M5) were "made" by bloggers, and it wasn't difficult during The Crowd's set to imagine the impact the band's music could have if it landed in the right hands (Stereogum, Largeheartedboy, etc., are you listening?). The group's songs are both catchy enough to grab you on first listen and complex enough to keep you going back for more, which I will.