An avant garde trio of acts makes an evening at Monstercade

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(photo by Lauren Barber)

At small shows like this there is almost always a woman who strides up to the stage and lays her purse at its altar. Tonight, the autumnal equinox, her long garment flows with her; it’s the color of blood at the first kiss of oxygen, dotted in black.

Hectorina, an indie-rock outfit based in Charlotte, is opening with a quick-paced number on a small, raised stage in the back. Summoned, Monstercade’s other concert-goers abandon mostly empty cans of PBR and Tecate outside and peter back into the horror-themed bar and arcade from the courtyard, passing underneath a stock ticker that is flashing scarlet, scrolling letters: “Monstercade!!!…now with 40% less spiders!,” “Eddie Garcia played here once…that was enough,” and “Sorry, we’re still learning to program this thing.”

We find ourselves drawn into a web of dancing red, green and blue sprinkles of light like sentient moths. The black lights pick up event flyers’ white borders but no one’s teeth are alight, thank goodness.

Hectorina is Dylan Gilbert, John Harrell III and Zack Jordan; they almost definitely listened to the Pixies and the Strokes in high school, and they rock. Gilbert isn’t afraid to fiddle with a multi-effects workstation, contorting sound waves to psychedelic effect. They perform some oldies but came to play tracks from their June release, Muck, and they ride out on a somewhat indulgent breakdown to no complaints.

Between sets is the time to escort fresh cocktails outdoors or take a cigarette break. While Marcho Butcher and Luis Tissot of São Paulo, Brazil assemble their stage, guests prop themselves against the establishment, take seats outside of Slappy’s Chicken next door or on newly-crafted wooden benches where a young ivy has been crawling up a column to meet string lights, promising enchantment a few years out as the vines venture up and across the spare wooden canopy. It’s peaceful under the waxing harvest moon, despite the zeitgeist. Monstercade’s symbolic sea-diving beast rises from the brick-and-mortar’s rooftop, claws and all. Godzilla devastates Japan on a television monitor where you’d expect to find the fictive monster’s face. But as The Tempest notes, all the devils are here.

Someone finds a way to bring up the rapier — a slender, lightweight sword — and riffs on wordplay far less incisive than the weapon, fumbling an attempt at some sort of imagined self-awareness and letting out the nervous chuckles of someone who knows he is prodding the coals too brazenly.

The woman an arm’s length from him shifts in her seat. So do I. And then the music kicks up over the loudspeakers outside and we are done here.

Butcher and Tissot, a duo known as Jesus & the Groupies, launch a stripped-down set of their catchy hybrid of punk and Delta blues sound. Their act feels forcibly avant-garde at times, to the point of caricature, but there are neatly-painted eyeballs with glittered irises hanging from the ceiling, so who can talk?

As they change out of their full white suits, anyone not in-the-know learns that the woman in red is Liz Simmons, Future Nature’s percussionist. Jay Dunbar, lead vocalist and acoustic guitarist, joins her with bare feet and a bandana that’s as much for sweat as aesthetic. Soundcheck is rocky, Liz is a bit piqued and a tipsy, a pugnacious fellow is hollering for the music to start. He knows them, and eventually sets one insolent foot on the stage, arm wrapped around a woman who joins in the invasive spectacle. (Sometimes ironic aggravation is actually just aggravating.)

The snowy coat of some animal drapes over her bass drum, hooves meeting the stage floor. She stations a massive gemstone — maybe black tourmaline, maybe obsidian — just in front.

They release stream after stream of intense, richly-layered sounds that moan like Santa Ana winds, surreal and feverish. Dunbar and Simmons sound like desert voyagers who’ve seen too many heaps of roadside carrion roasting under cloudless skies, kicked too many little skeletons traversing sandy hills to stretch the legs and smoke something or other.

Her tambourine is a rattlesnake.

At some point, probably unbeknownst to most, she drops the beat.

“I f*cked up,” she self-deprecates with a falsely-coy attitude.

“Liz f*cked up!,” Pugnacious Dude No. 2 echoes.

This is an intimate venue. During some transition on stage, Simmons voices a not-quite-under-the-breath comment about boundaries crossed. Nothing fazes her during their final song, “Lust,” though, when many outstretched hands cross the stage to capture her in photos and video with smartphones. She takes her seat and focuses on the hand-saw she’s curved over her left thigh from foot to left hand and, despite it all, chooses to wield a bow in the right, closes her eyes and gifts smooth sonorous whistles like smoke signals into the night.

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