The Monochrome Set – 100 Club, London (4th March 2016) – LIVE REVIEW

Only one decade since the 1970s is missing in this set by The Monochrome Set (2000-10, the noughties, if you’re asking). Songs from last year’s ‘Spaces Everywhere’ sit alongside singles from the late 1970s (like the excellent ‘Alphaville’ early on and ‘He’s Frank’ to end the night), tracks from the group’s landmark early 1980s albums (‘Strange Boutique’ and ‘Eligible Bachelors’), and selections from the rest of their unjustly neglected career.

Half of today’s band are survivors from the the days of Hornsey art school group the B-Sides, which split to give birth to The Monochrome Set and Adam and the Ants. Ex-Ants bassist Andy Warren and singer-guitarist Bid (who formed The Monochrome Set with now departed lead guitarist Lester Square) form the core, ably abetted by drummer Steve Brummell in a fez and shades (a tradition in this group), and keyboard player John Paul Moran, with a dress and hippy hair.

The set opens with ‘Super Plastic City’, the title track from their 2013 album, and it’s soon apparent that Bid’s guitar playing has evolved sufficiently to make Lester Square’s absence easier to take. They rattle through the old ‘The Jet Set Junta’ and ‘Alphaville,’ the new ‘Iceman’ and ‘Rain Check’, and the rarity ‘LSD’. ‘Hip Kitten Spinning Chrome’ and ‘Streams’ are two of three tracks from 2012’s ‘Platinum Coils’, sandwiching another rarity in ‘Reach For Your Gun’ — Mexican death psych garage is the only way to describe it. It’s all whirling Velvets-style keyboards, on top of a rock solid bass and guitar combination.

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Andy Warren appears deadpan throughout but has a telepathically close relationship with Bid’s effortless riffing. Lester Square’s guitar style influenced The Smiths, the Glasgow and Edinburgh post-punk scenes, and then their successors Franz Ferdinand. He now teaches art and design at North London Collegiate school under his real name, Tom Hardy. Another element absent from tonight’s set is fancy art school films. Just like the Velvet Underground in the 1960s, performances by The Monochrome Set in the early 1980s were marked by strikingly arty back projections. They didn’t have Andy Warhol, but those who saw the films made by Tony Potts for live appearances by The Monochrome Set in 1980 were overwhelmed by the experience. His altered images gave the fractured post-punk atmosphere even more edge.

‘Streams’ has a plaintiff melody and keyboards evocative of  Ray Manzarek from The Doors. ‘Walking With the Beast’ from 1990’s ‘Dante’s Casino’ could be a Walker Brothers homage, while Bid’s guitar comes to the fore on the big sound of ‘The Devil Rides Out’ from ‘Eligible Bachelors’. Changes of pace and jazzy raindrop keyboards on new song ‘Fantasy Creatures’ are followed by the awesome twisting oldie ‘Love Goes Down The Drain’. ‘Waiting For Alberto’, the last tonight from ‘Platinum Coils’, is typically complex musically but, as usual, the lyrics are clever, funny and incomprehensible.

1985’s ‘Cowboy Country’ blends subverted Rawhide machismo, Burt Bacharach, Monkees-style camp, sweet guitar breaks and shimmering keyboards. The film projections may be missing, but movie references abound in new song ‘Z-Train’. The main set ends with ‘Eine Symphonie Des Grauens’ from 1979, a near-religious experience for believers in The Monochrome Set.

The encores of ‘The Monochrome Set’ and ‘He’s Frank’ are stacked with Ants drumming, luscious guitar chords, crazy keyboards, Velvet Underground references, rapid rhythm, and the spirit of those glorious post-punk years of 1979-80. If Lester Square comes back, perhaps The Monochrome Set will finally get that breakthrough moment they have always deserved. Jonathan Richman had ‘Roadrunner’ and ‘Egyptian Reggae’; it seems unfair that Bid and the lads have never made it big.

This Monochrome Set article was written by Ian Bourne, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Catherine Quinn. Photo by Ian Bourne

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