Odd Band Out: Mondo Drag, February 20 at the River Music Experience Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 17 February 2010 06:29

Mondo Drag

When Mondo Drag drummer/singer Johnnie Cluney says that "we're kind of bringing in more of a pop element" to the band's new songs, take that with a giant rock of salt.

The Quad Cities-based band released its full-length debut, New Rituals, on the Alive Naturalsounds Records label last month, and it's a hazy, sludgy affair - bluesy psychedelia borrowing heavily from the 1960s and recalling the contemporary sounds of Dead Meadow.

Yet there are indeed hints of accessible melody in the massive riffs and thick keyboards. "Love Me" hides on its downslope a compelling ascending chorus with heavy vocal emphasis on the downbeat. Calling it poppy is a stretch, but it opens the door to the remainder of the song. "True Visions" has a similar late revelation, with moaning layers of keyboards and guitars as its extended coda.

The quintet - celebrating the release of New Rituals on Saturday at the River Music Experience's Performance Hall - has begun to build a national profile. The band had its Daytrotter.com session released last week, and even though that Web site is based in the Quad Cities, it certainly doesn't play favorites with hometown bands.

And while Alive Records might not be a big outfit (even by independent standards), Cluney said it's a "cult-y label" with a devoted following: "Anything they release people will buy."

Its catalog includes the debut albums of the Black Keys and Two Gallants, and Cluney admits that Mondo Drag doesn't exactly fit into the label's aesthetic, harder and weirder than its other groups. "I definitely think we're the odd band out," he said. "I'm surprised he [label founder Patrick Boissel] wanted to put it out."

That's not really too much of a mystery. One can hear elemental echoes of the Black Keys, but more importantly one can hear a confident band willing to take risks and good enough to make them work.

"Fade Out" isn't even two and a half minutes long, but it's two songs: a funky rocker (for a minute) that would be at home next to the Jimi Hendrix Experience's "Fire," and then a sterling showcase for anguished yet eloquent guitar noise that would make Neil Young proud. What's most impressive is the concision, that the band has mined and polished the gold from what one imagines are expansive jams.

Mondo Drag seemed to have some sense of a destiny beyond the Quad Cities. It's been together for three years, and it spent its first six months working on its songs and the next six months working on an album. It was signed to Alive based on a demo (and a relationship with the Iowans of Radio Moscow, also on Alive), and Cluney said the band hasn't played much in its hometown, building a regional base ahead of a local one.

After it closes its current tour at the River Music Experience, the band will embark on another tour in March that includes a handful of dates at South by Southwest. All of this will be to support the record, and Cluney said the band plays much of the material from New Rituals.

Given the number of overdubs, he admitted that it's impossible to replicate the album. "We'd have to have 20 people on stage," he said. "We just do what we can."

Mondo Drag will perform at the River Music Experience's Performance Hall (131 West Second Street in Davenport) on Saturday, February 20. The show starts at 7 p.m., and the bill also includes Maylane and the One Night Standards. Tickets are $5. For more information, visit RiverMusicExperience.org.

For more information on Mondo Drag, visit MondoDrag.org or MySpace.com/holyrocks. To listen to the band's Daytrotter session, visit Daytrotter.com/dt/mondo-drag-concert/20031140-111852.html.