By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — An experimental offshoot of influential ’80s college rock pioneers Camper Van Beethoven, renowned modern psychedelic outfit the Monks of Doom plays a pair of rare Bay Area shows to celebrate the band’s first new album in a quarter century.
Started in 1986 as an outlet for music that didn’t fit the with Camper Van Beethoven, Monks of Doom was essentially CVB minus singer/guitarist David Lowery and violinst Jonathan Segal (guitarists Greg Lisher and Chris Molla, bassist Victor Krummenacher and drummer Chris Pedersen made up the group). Molla would depart both groups shortly after the Monks were founded, leading the remaining musicians to invite friend and Ophelias guitarist David Immergluck to join the band.
The Monks released their first effort, the mostly instrumental psychedelic opus Soundtrack to the Film ‘Breakfast on the Beach of Deception’ in 1987 on Camper’s Pitch-A-Tent Records, putting a spotlight on the creative six-string interplay between Lisher and Immergluck and a penchant for more prog-rock influences in terms of sudden mood shifts and knotty time signatures. Though Camper Van Beethoven was increasingly busy with its first foray with a major label after years as a staunchly independent underground band (their Virgin Records debut Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart came out in 1988), the Monks still managed to issue their second album the following year.
The Cosmodemonic Telegraph Company found the quartet raising the bar with their original material — the menacing instrumental opener “Vaporize Your Crystals” remains a fan favorite and “Taste of Tendon” nods to the sizeable influence of original Pink Floyd principle songwriter Syd Barrett — while also delivering outstanding covers of songs by experimental guitar giants Snakefinger (“The Vivian Girls”) and sometime Camper collaborator Eugene Chadbourne (“Voodoo Vengeance”).
Growing tensions in the CVB camp would lead to Segal’s departure from the band and paved the way for Immergluck to join as a touring member of the band after the release of Key Lime Pie in 1990, but Camper would split up in acrimony later that year. Lowery would pursue a more roots-oriented sound with his new band Cracker while the Monks of Doom became the main outlet for the other musicians. The Monks initially ramped up their activity, signing to IRS Records and putting out a pair of critically acclaimed albums and an EP before dissolving the group in 1993.
While Immergluck busied himself with session and touring work (playing with John Hiatt and Counting Crows, who he would eventually join as a full-time member later in the decade), Lisher and Krummenacher would work on other projects and solo material before Pedersen’s decision to move to Australia spurred the Monks to reunite for what was expected to be a final farewell show in 1998. Instead, that last performance served as a catalyst for a Camper Van Beethoven reunion the following year.
Since the turn of the Millennium, the players from Camper, Cracker and the Monks have gotten together regularly for new recordings, frequent tandem tours co-headlined by Cracker and CVB and even the now annual Campout Festivals featuring the bands and a variety of side project performing over the course of a weekend. For their part, the Monks of Doom have played occasional shows as well as issuing the eclectic 2006 collection of new covers entitled What’s Left For Kicks? featuring a wild variety of songs by krautrock icons Neu!, British rock greats the Kinks and Fleetwood Mac, jazz saxophone maverick Rahssahn Roland Kirk, Italian soundtrack composer Nino Rota and many others.
Though the band has been largely quiet since a pair of shows in 2009, the Monks of Doom have spent the intervening years gradually compiling and recording new songs. The Brontë Pin, their first new collection of new Monks of Doom originals in a quarter century, finds the band of veterans picking up as if no time has passed. The virtuoso quartet plays the new material and old favorites at two shows this weekend, playing the Make-Out Room in San Francisco on their own for an early show Saturday and heading to the Ivy Room in Albany Sunday night where the band will be joined by noted SF songwriter Tom Heyman.
Monks of Doom
Saturday, May 19, 7 p.m. $15
The Make-Out Room
Sunday, May 20, 7 p.m. $12-$15
The Ivy Room