Mona played a thirty-minute set Wednesday night at the Echo, a live venue on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles’ Echo Park, to an 85-90% capacity crowd. They were only the second band, technically opening for Vanaprasta, although Mona was listed higher on the bill in their defense. And while Vanaprasta does have merits of their own, I left after the Mona set, as did most of the rest of the crowd, because that’s who I went there to see, and I didn’t want to listen to another band who might cloud my then-vivid impression of the Nashville-based four piece’s L.A. debut.
L.A. Band Polls are a three piece which remind me of the inchoate indie scene circa ’85-’96, back when The Replacements’ song “Left of the Dial” was a sort of encrypted message for where you could find those under-the-radar acts ostracized by the MTV burgeoning megalith. Such timely influences are sprinkled throughout, everything from early Smashing Pumpkins to Dinosaur Jr. to My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth. They’d make a good Neil Young backing band. What’s impressive about Polls is how they get the sound of a four piece out of only three members, which speaks volumes about their individual talents and their cohesiveness as a band. Their bassist’s tone was impeccable, the drummer was solid, and the guitar parts were quite inventive. Signed to indie label Jaxart, two big things are holding Polls back from achieving more immediate notoriety. The first is their absolute lack of image, and I’m not talking about decking them out in Mao jackets, but they gotta try a little harder to not look like engineers or classical musicians. The second and more important is their lack of a true frontman. Their guitarist, who handles lyrical duties, is passable, but an arresting voice is what’s really keeping Polls from arising out of the slushpile. That being said, a good band.
Mona’s attracting scary attention in the UK right now. NME posts about them regularly, including Wednesday’s blurb about their UK tour, self-titled debut LP in May, and their headlining show at the Electric Ballroom on May 17th, surely to be their biggest to date. Their initial success in the U.K. speaks volumes about the sorry state of public interest in the American Rock Scene. Although there were a few groupies at the Echo show (bravo), most of the attendees were “in the know” and there to see if Mona’s poised to become the next Kings of Leon, the band Mona is most directly compared to, since both bands are based in Nashville and grew up performing Christian music. Will Mona spin on KROQ? Heck, will it play in Peoria? Their appearance in Austin next month will surely prove a deciding factor for their 2011, at least here in the States.
Mona, unlike Polls, exudes image and style. They wear tight black jeans, a Nashville giveaway, but I once heard that girls like tight, black jeans! These guys have channeled their inner Elvis! They don’t give a shit as they plug in their guitars. They know they’re good as they attack their first song with the freedom of a jam session. They equal or surpass Kings of Leon in decibel level. The tastemakers are held at bay and forced to congregate closer to the stage. This is American music, music which epitomizes the vastness and diversity of the North American landscape.
Their fourth song of the night was “Listen To Your Love”, arguably their most radio-ready hit. The three part backing vocals at the end are top-notch. The groupies belt out every lyric at the front of the stage, and behind them a cluster of digital cameras take video. After they finish to a restrained applause behind a few whoops and hollers, their lead singer remarked, “I don’t believe any of the bad things I’ve heard about L.A. crowds,” and I couldn’t help but wonder if he meant it facetiously. And yet as Mona continued onto the second half of their set, I wonder if they take themselves too seriously.
Signed to Island Records, Mona is surely a band to watch. The voice, music, and songwriting are all there, so the quality of their eponymous album will depend on the production values. I just hope that Mona is a band that takes a long time before they discover their ceiling.
Contributed by Chris GedosMona – Listen To Your Love Mona – Walk in the Park (Beach House Cover)