Band On the Wall, Manchester
April 11th 2012
The last time I saw the Monochrome Set play in Manchester was thirty years ago!ÃÂ somehow we have missed eachother since then although I caught them at the Primavera festival in Barcelona last year. The years have been kind to the band, very kind. Tonight they effortlessly glide through a mixture of their old songs and tracks culled from their new album, Platinum Coil, in a seamless set of quintessential British art school pop that sounds like all your favourite hit records from the classic decades of guitar music rolled into one.
With a gift for melody and a songwriting nous the Monochrome Set write such great songs that have somehow fallen through the cracks and not become mainstream gems leaving them as a much loved cult band who have influenced a whole rack of bands. One of the frustrations in music is not seeing a band get the credit that it’s due and the Monochrome Set’s almost camp, clever, breezy yet dark pop that seemed so much part of what punk rock was before it became codified was a major influence on the Smiths, Franz Ferdinand, Orange Juice, Fire Engines and a whole host of UK indie and post ÃÂ punk bands.
They were ÃÂ fellow passengers with the early Adam And The Ants (Adam was the bass player in their original line up the of the pre Monochrome Set band, the B Sides- which frontman Bid (real name Ganesh Seshadri) sang in with ÃÂ guitarist Lester Square- the UK Subs played bass in the early Monochrome Set as well). They have the same kind of warped pop sensibility of the early Ants, that same sort of breezy, ÃÂ warped pop but with a dark, velvet undertow of something quite sinister, something pervetred behind the twitching curtains. It’s this dual edge that keeps both bands fascinating and also that 3D filmic feel to the songs that open up into great vistas of atmospheres and images.
It’s all deceptive with this band. The songs are perfect constructions- jazz chords, classic beat rushes, twanging Hank Marvin moments, and Bid’s wonderful voice still croons and soars over the top. There are moments of exquisite beauty like on Eine Symphonie Des GrauensÃÂ which is a cascade of classic chord changes and great guitar sounds that is perfect as anything the prime time Beatles would have dared to make. There is still that nagging guitar lick in the opening Monochrome Set complete with those pouring tribal drums, whilst Alphaville is as dark and sexy and dangerously heartbreaking as it ever was.
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They’ve added a violin to the mix and it really fits, somewhere between the Velvet Underground drones and country and Lester Square is still the fantastic guitar player, looking like some sort of general from the Charge of the Light Brigade with his big sideburns and Hussar pants, his angular body shapes match his great riffs and licks- not one guitar part is wasted and they all drip perfect melody and nagging hook lines that stick in your head for decades and all the time bassist Andy Warren, whose also has an Adam And The Ants history oozes a surly cool.
There is no other ÃÂ band like the Monochrome Set.ÃÂ They are the biggest band in the world in a parallel universe, one were the mainstream was full of perfect pop bands who wrote sharp, smart and hip songs about anything they wanted.
Somehow in our universe they have been consigned to being a cult band and the oafs get the lions share. They define the word cult with a swooning crowd of devotees who are hooked on their set of classic songs old and new. The Monochrome Set may be the ultimate cult band but they are a growing cult band who may just have the last laugh…