Monochrome Set

Dot Dash, Hoboken Maxwells, USA

May 31 2013

There’s something quite perfect about watching this most quintessentially English of groups playing in New Jersey.

Just over the Hudson river you can see the iconic Manhattan skyline as you walk towards the venue which is slowly filling up with aging anglophiles- those Americans still enthralled by British culture since the Beatles invasion or since the post punk wars.

For this still sizeable slice of the US music public there is something intangibly fascinating about these slightly camp British groups with their fancy words and anti rock ‘n’ roll rock ‘n’ roll. Coming from a culture where bombastic is big and the subtle can sometimes be steamrollered out, a group like the Monochrome Set provides endless fascinating possibilities of quintessential anglophilia – even if the singer is actually an Indian prince and the guitar player a Canadian art teacher!

The support tonight is Dot Dash, an accomplished group of guitar playing anglophiles from Washington DC- they look like four of tonight’s audience who have stepped up onto the stage to make sense of their huge collection of British classic vinyl cuts come to life. They are also great players and easily assimilate all their influences that range from sixties beat through to punk and the Jam and a big dollop of Wire. It’s quirky, off centre, off kilter guitar pop played with a love and a passion and if they really wanted to they could make a serious connection with other lovers of the form.

The Monochrome Set shuffle onto the stage with their fez wearing, stoic drummer laying down the tribal beats on their theme tune, the Monochrome Set. He stares impassively at the crowd through his sunglasses after dark- almost scowling at them as the rest of the band amble in to play the song, with bass player, the legendary former Ant Andy Warren staring like a psychopath at the crowd and already hooking up those great loping bass lines for Lester Square, complete in licorice allsort black and white stripy suite, to swagger his brilliant guitar lines across, Bid’s guitar is humming with a feint feedback- perhaps with the electricity of New York City but his vocals are precise and clipped and fantastically posh as he intones the great melody and darkly humorous words over the top of the ever wonderful mix of spaghetti western classic beat and endless guitar permutations that so obviously fired up the Smiths and most of eighties indie guitar action.

As the set unfurls you are again reminded of how brilliant this band is and how much of a template for British bands in the eighties they really were. Morrissey and Marr were famously fans and there is a cigarette paper between the sound of the Smiths and the preceding Monochrome Set. There are even echoes of John Squire’s more melodic guitar jangles in there and a whole host of other bands have obviously been listening- it makes the Monochrome Set a huge band by proxy- but being a legend doesn’t pay the bills and they don’t even get acknowledged enough for the creative debt that they are owed but those that know KNOW and the band have a catalogue of classic tunes that sound like signpost songs from a decade that largely ignored them.

They play the quirky original version of Alphaville with that strange guitar sound just to remind you of what a key part of post punk they really were whilst Jet Set Junta briskly unfurls itself to remind you of the near hits that they could write as well.

The highpoint is Eine Symphonie Des Grauns- a dark and foul song, tweaked with humour and superb jazzy melodies and minor chord melancholia- in an alternative universe this was a massive hit- fortunately for me I live in that universe and as the band grin their way through a brilliant set, I’m exploding with joy- anyone who loves British guitar bands from the Roses to the Smiths to Orange Juice and beyond should check out the Monochrome Set- they were before the whole lot of them and were brilliant then and still brilliant now…

2 COMMENTS

  1. Great review! Can’t wait to see them at the Venue in November. Shame Andy didn’t get on stage with Adam and Dave at the Matthew Ashman tribute gig. The Monochrome Set deserved a lot more success but it’s kind of nice that only some of us get them and know how great they really are, whilst others are missing out. Like we’re into a big secret!

  2. Award winning journalist leans helplessly on cliché — are The Monochrome Set really “quintessentially English”? What, exactly, does that mean? Why do “journalists” label anybody that has not wildly embraced the entire gamut of cheap American culture, “quintessentially English”? I refer here to only the first paragraph, but the sixth-formy tone does not cease. You are (probably) the most accomplished writer on this website, but the quality of the writing here, is, I’m afraid to say, very poor, and something I would advise you to immediately address.

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