As I stood outside Hill Country in NYC I wasn’t sure what to expect: standing in front of me were approximately 150 young ladies, age 18-22, waiting to see 100 Monkeys. I was probably one of the oldest members in the crowd that night and I am not old. But there was an air of excitement on the sidewalk that could only be generated by young women awaiting their version of The Beatles. As the crowd paced, awaiting the show to begin, I could tell this wasn’t going to be your run of the mill live rock show.
Let me get this out of the way, a certain member of 100 Monkeys happens to be in the Twilight movies (Jackson Rathbone plays Jasper Hale) and I assumed these ladies were Twilight obsessed fans trying to catch a glimpse of their favorite heart-throb. I was wrong. Just before show started I asked the band’s manager for a set list. Imagine my surprise when he said he didn’t have one because the band determines the set list minutes prior to hitting the stage. In fact, much of the band’s set was improvised, which gave fans the pleasure of witnessing a lively jam session at the end of the set. But later for that…
I’d done my preparation prior to the show, researched the band, listened to their music on MySpace, and couldn’t really pinpoint their style. Was it rock? Funk? Psychobilly (their term not mine)? I prefer going to see a band without any expectations because it allows for the element of surprise.
First off, this band is BANANAS and I mean this in a good way. Their stage presence is super high energy, fun, and so alive that you can’t help but bop your head to the music. Four young men that are easy on the eyes is never something tough to look at during a show, especially when they are dressed in a hip uniform of black suits with skinny ties. Jay had elected to wear that evening a cowboy hat and mustache which channeled Juan Valdez. I loved it!
The band opened with a, get this, improvised song called Magic Carpet. Nothing shows off your musical chops like an improvised song, so immediately I was impressed. The band’s sound is definitely rock, but there’s a heavy flavor of alternative, funk, honky tonk, and soul. This was evident in the standout Wasteland, a gritty, New Orleans style song which sounded more like a fiery and bleeding heart melody sung by a man with a hard past as opposed to a young, handsome blond far young to have experienced pain. Resembling a young Cab Calloway, an impassioned and poetic Ben Graupner sang his heart out when he performed this masterpiece. The Monkey Song by Spencer Bell, gave me the impression of an alternative edge with a Nirvana-like riff buzzing about sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Spencer Bell deeply inspires the band and it’s evident in their musical tributes. Bell was a close friend and fellow band mate who passed way far too early at 20-years-old from adrenal cancer. Bell and the members of 100 Monkeys at the Interlochen Arts Academy, but was kindly asked to leave after letting his grades slip. A school administrator decided that Spencer and his friends were “lost boys,” so soon after they got tattoos that read, “I’m Lost…” And yes, I saw the tattoo. Spencer’s music influences the band and his former band mate from the The Stevedores, Ben Johnson, is now a Monkey.
Enthusiasm dominated their faces as they stepped off the stage since this was their second show in NYC and largest to date. Talking with the band I quickly found them to be charming, lively, and playful. Jay Rathbone has a mega-watt smile and a slight southern drawl in which his charm is evident (he hails from TX): he’s still on a high from a great show and ready to talk Monkeys with an engaging intensity; Ben Graupner is a black man trapped in a white mans body with a soulful voice: who would believe he picked up the trumpet only days ago; Jered Anderson had his vest ripped off during the show and a female fan tried to stick money down his pants: he seems humbled by the relentless fan attention ; Ben Johnson is the quietest of the bunch, the strong silent type: he has an intense focus on his music.
They all live together in 1 house, which gives them ample time to eat, sleep, and breathe music together. One of the most impressive things about the group is they all play multiple instruments as evidenced in their “switcheroo,” where band-mates swap instruments. At one point a trumpet even came out, which made me think I was at a Mardi Gras celebration. You never know what might happen at a 100 Monkeys show is the way they roll. I told them the “switcheroo” reminded me of Dave Grohl, one of my favorite musicians who played drums in Nirvana and now plays guitar and is the lead singer of the Foo Fighters. They take that same approach to their style of music by often changing it up by experimenting with new styles and sounds. When I asked them how they would categorize their music they said their musical sound is meant to be all over the place, and they prefer to play what they feel and have fun instead of being pigeon holed into one genre. The end result, whether it is rock, punk, funk, is a reflection of their diversity hailing from all over the U.S. In fact, their musical mentor is someone they refer to as “Uncle”, a soulful, jazz musician who hails from New Orleans.
One thing that’s certain is that the guys love their loyal fans, who follow them all over the country and know the words to every song. The energy they receive from their fans radiates back in their stage presence. They finished the show with a 10-minute jam session, a strong ending to a fun night which included the opening band and what appeared to be an on-stage mosh pit. Sometimes you’re in the mood to see a band who sings of sorrow causing you to cry in your beer, but 100 Monkeys made me want to pour a beer over my head and dance around. I write about things that are fun, light, and exciting, but when not writing I am glued to the news to keep tabs on all the terrifying events occurring around the world. Writing about the things that bring joy to me is my outlet, like playing music that’s fun and people can dance to is theirs. Boisterous and entertaining, the bands energy is contagious, which makes their shows fun to attend and lively to watch. Have fun and live life could be their motto and I couldn’t agree more.
So what did they do while in NYC? Eat pizza. When I asked them if I’d be seeing them again in NYC they assured me that they plan to return to the East Coast for more shows and more good times. Last weekend, 100 Monkeys played two gigs in upstate New York before moving west to continue touring and making music. I’ll be certain to attend the next NYC show, this time not in stiletto heels, for a fun and free night where I can let loose and enjoy good music.
Until we meet again Monkeys…