Birkenhead is not a place that usually comes to mind when you think of seeing a funk band from Memphis. But MonoNeon made Future Yard their own for their one and only UK performance.
If you’re a massive Prince fan (are there anything other than massive Prince fans??) you will probably be aware of MonoNeon. He is known to Prince fans as the last bassist taken into Paisley Park and he played on some of Prince’s final recordings. But for some of us he might not be so well known.
As a newcomer to MonoNeon I did my research before the gig and ended up heading down some rabbit holes. Holes that led to Bootsy Collins, George Clinton, The Tom Tom Club, the Dada movement, sound poems, William S Burroughs, speech to music videos and surrealism. Indeed, I spent so much time down rabbit holes I’ve developed a pathological fear of foxes!
But this research shows just how versatile MonoNeon is; his influences and influence are wide ranging, idiosyncratic and include some of the greatest bass-guitarists ever.
MonoNeon, or Dwayne Thomas Jr as heis probably still known to his family, is a prolific artist with 24 sole albums under his belt and several collaborations with the likes of Ne-Yo, Mac Millar and Nas. It was from this extensive back catalogue that he drew to play to a rammed crowd and had them thoroughly enthralled. A largely unplanned set list included the tracks Women, Water & Weed, his latest single Invisible, Hot Cheetos, and Supermane; as well as an improvised jazz/funk version of Queen’s We Will Rock You.
At one point It was like being in the film The Blues Brothers as keyboard player Dominique Xavier Taplin started a call and repeat session with the audience that resembled the iconic Cab Calloway rendition of Minnie the Moocher. This was followed by yet more moments like thisas he introduced and thanked the rest of the band: Peter Knudson on guitar, Mackenzie Green – vocals, Robert Sput Searight on drums and of course MonoNeon himself
Three things struck me about the performance: MonoNeon’s unique style of dress, his unique style of playing and the sheer damn funkiness of it all.
MonoNeon’s style is individual, bright and frankly a bit psychedelic. His trademark technicolour, crocheted balaclava (with just eye and mouth holes) was teamed with bright green spectacles with the frames visible, a quilted jacket in neon/pastel colours, multicoloured trousers and oversized trainers sporting his own moniker. This bright style extended to his guitar which is similarly bright and adorned with a sock on the headstock. The Dada and surrealist influences are clear here.
His style of playing is also quite unique. Despite being right-handed he plays left-handed on an upside-down right-handed guitar. However, this isn’t a surrealist inspired thing and simply reflects how he chose to play when first picking up a guitar at four years old. The sounds he manages to extract is incredible and his fingers take on shapes I’ve never seen in any other player.
This all leads to the sheer funkiness of the performance. It was difficult not to be engulfed by the sound, the beat and the vibe. I’m sure that if MonoNeon had a MRI scan they would find the The Funk running through him like a stick of rock. The whole thing simultaneously felt raw and polished, improvised and rehearsed and the band members had a connection that infected the audience. People I spoke to who weren’t even big fans of funk were in awe.
Support was provided by Liverpool-based jazz quintet Green Tangerines. With a trumpet, saxophone, lead and bass guitar and drums they played a 30 minute set of instrumental Nu-Jazz that featured more than a soupçon of 70’s funk. The lead guitarist was even sporting a 70’s moustache to complete look! This perfectly complemented the set that followed and warmed an already large crowd up quite nicely.
The audience is also worth a mention as the demographics was difficult to define; it included all ages, colours and styles. The high number of 20 somethings provided testament to the resurgence of jazz with a younger generation that lack the baggage jazz has with Generation X and Boomers.
As with our last ParrJazz gig, we feel privileged to have been able to witness this exclusive performance. A big thank you to ParrJazz for bringing him to Birkenhead (and as a photographer a special thanks to the light engineer at Future Yard for the brilliant lighting).