The theory of non-ideal gases at thermodynamic equilibrium, for instance the van der Waals gas model, has played a central role in our understanding of coexisting phases, as well as the transitions between them. In contrast, the theory fails with granular matter because collisions between the grains dissipate energy, and their macroscopic size renders thermal fluctuations negligible. When a mass of grains is subjected to mechanical vibration, it can make a transition to a fluid state. In this state, granular matter exhibits patterns and instabilities that resemble those of molecular fluids. Here, we report a granular solid-liquid phase transition in a vibrating granular monolayer. Unexpectedly, the transition is mediated by waves and is triggered by a negative compressibility, as for van der Waals phase coexistence, although the system does not satisfy the hypotheses used to understand atomic systems. The dynamic behaviour that we observecoalescence, coagulation and wave propagationis common to a wide class of phase transitions. We have combined experimental, numerical and theoretical studies to build a theoretical framework for this transition.