Wednesday 28 May 2014

The Monochrome Set with The Fallen Leaves at the Retro Man Blog Night, Half Moon Putney May 24th

The Monochrome Set by Paul Slattery
Firstly, I'd just like to say many thanks to everyone that came along on Saturday to our Retro Man Blog night at The Half Moon in Putney with The Monochrome Set and special guests The Fallen Leaves. The gig was sold out so I really appreciate the fantastic turn-out on a night that clashed, not only with many other "Blog-friendly" gigs in London, but also with various high profile football games. There was a really friendly atmosphere full of anticipation and I think both bands responded with absolutely stunning sets that rewarded the crowd perfectly. Opening the night were The Fallen Leaves and they always seem to rise to the occasion at The Half Moon, they just seem to be made for each other. Rob Green is the consummate front-man, with his tweed jacket and cravat, he's like a conjurer delving into his bag of tricks to keep us entertained. At various points he will pull out a whistle or a tambourine, he will blow perfect smoke rings from his electronic cigarette and during "Shining" takes off his jacket, rolls up his sleeves, pulls his armband tight against the veins and helps himself to a fix of PG Tips from his thermos flask. He sips his tea, gazing out at the crowd, the man with that deep resonant crooning voice and the most expressive fingers in Garage Rock. 

Rob Green of The Fallen Leaves by Paul Hughes
Well, I say Rock, but The Fallen Leaves are almost "Anti-Rock". "No jeans, no trainers, no cover versions" is one of their mottos and they play a finely honed set that is lean, with all the bloated rock excess stripped away and flung into the mincer. Rob Symmons, the original Subway Sect guitarist, holds his guitar so high you half expect some sort of scratchy Haircut 100 sound. But instead he physically assaults his Fender, smashing the body, twisting the strings, wringing the life out of it. Most people who witness his style for the first time just stand open-mouthed in awe. In fact, I met one guy from the States at the band's 12 Bar Club residency who was so blown away that he just filmed a whole song focusing solely on Robs awesome fretwork. The American said "awesome" not me, but quite frankly it was! Like Lester Square, Rob Symmons is one of the most underrated guitarists to come out of Punk, New Wave, Post-Punk whatever you want to call it, both turning convention on it's head whilst still working within recognized melodic structures. 

The Fallen Leaves by Paul Slattery
The band's rhythm section is fast becoming one of the best around at the moment, bassist Matthew Karas, in his paisley jacket, his spidery fingers moving across his fretboard, is impassive behind his shades until he suddenly grabs a harmonica during the excellent "Passing By" and blasts a riff before chucking it over his shoulder. Drummer Bill Lewington is a real powerhouse and he plays with such venom that the 12 Bar floor is often littered with cracked drumsticks. The band play a superb selection of tracks from all three of their faultless albums with my highlights being "Against The Grain", "I Made a Mistake" and "Sylvie Says". They play some new tracks too with "Prodigal Sun" and "Lavender Girl" paving the way to a promising fourth album that will hopefully be out soon. The band get a well deserved encore and launch into the classic debut single "Trouble".

The Monochrome Set by Paul Slattery
The Monochrome Set take the stage to that familiar tribal drum beat "The Monochrome Set (I Presume") which boasts one of the best intros ever, the guitars build and we are off on a fantastic voyage through the band's back catalogue, twenty one songs in all taken from all eras. The recent songs from "Platinum Coils" and new album "Super Plastic City" sit pretty amongst all those much loved classics and are just as well received. Lester is sporting an eye-catching blue and white diamond suit and spins out these wonderful guitar riffs, as much Ennio Morricone, Surf music and Joe Meek as The Velvet Underground. Bid is in fine voice and spirits and has a beautiful twelve string red semi-acoustic Baldwin guitar and I realized that he doesn't really get enough credit for his guitar playing either. Andy Warren is as impassive as ever, legs crossed, gazing out into the middle distance and you wonder how he can stand so still whilst producing such an amazing sound from his bass. Drummer Steve Brummell with his fez and shades is excellent and I think this stripped-back four-piece is one of the best line-ups I have seen. The "big hit" "Jet Set Junta" is up next and then two tracks from "Super Plastic City", the title track and the superb "Lefty". 

Andy Warren by Paul Slattery
One of my all-time favourite tracks "Alphaville" is next before "Hip Kitten, Spinning Chrome" and "Streams" from "Platinum Coils" reinforce the strength of the new material. There's a nice surprise in "Walking With The Beast" from the thoroughly magnificent "Dante's Casino" album and it's Latino rhythm sparks off a mild "frenzy" of Dad dancing at the front of the stage. It's brilliant, the band are known to be the quintessential "Indie" band but they sure know how to get people to dance. After all that activity I was hoping for "Goodbye Joe" to slow the blood pressure down a bit but no, it's straight into "The Lighter Side of Dating" and we're off again, someone get me a seat! The ode to cross-dressing "Christine" from "Charade" is a perfectly realised Kinks-style vignette that raises a smile. There's a brief hint of The Monkees in the opening riff to "The Time I've Spent Doing Nothing" and then it's back in time to the shimmering intro to "Love Goes Down The Drain", one of The Monochrome Set's most enduring songs. "Waiting For Alberto" touches on Bid's time in hospital following his stroke, waiting for a welcome visit and the standard bag of fruit and I must say that being amongst a crowd singing "I hope it's not bananas, bananas make me ill!" was quite bizarre.

Lester Square by Paul Slattery
"Ici Les Enfants" from "Strange Boutique" leads into the sing-along "Cowboy Country", what is it all about by the way? Next up, "Jacob's Ladder" and then it is the classic "Eine Symphonie Des Grauens" with it's grinding bass line that closes the main set in some style. The band are called back and play "The Wilderness" from "Dante's Casino" before slamming into "He's Frank" and off they go again...but it's not enough for the crowd and the band return with the sinister rumblings of "They Call Me Silence" and the always wonderful "The Devil Rides Out". "Hail" echo the crowd, yes indeed, all hail The Monochrome Set! Tonight was one of the best shows I have seen the band play and with the wealth of excellent new material at their side the future looks very promising for the band indeed. 

Steve Brummell by Paul Slattery
Rob Green of The Fallen Leaves by Paul Slattery
The Monochrome Set by Paul Slattery
Rob Symmons of The Fallen Leaves by Paul Hughes
Bid by Paul Hughes
The Monochrome Set by Paul Slattery
The Fallen Leaves by Paul Slattery
With thanks to Bid, Lester, Andy and Steve, The Fallen Leaves, Caryne & Dave, Carrie, Joe & Anthony at The Half Moon, photographers Paul Slattery and Paul Hughes - "Hail!". For more of Paul Hughes' photographs of the night please check out his Flickr page here. You can also see more photos at the Retro Man Blog Facebook page - head over here and hit "Like" for access to the album.

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