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Review: Colette Imison. Photos: Jason Rosewarne
170 Russell Thursday October 20, 2022

Artist Director of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival Michael Tortoni stated that the 2022 festival would be ‘a hell of a party’ and he was spot on.

In the heart of Melbourne, live music venue 170 Russell exploded with colour when electric bassist Dwayne Thomas. Jr (professionally known as MonoNeon) made his solo debut on Thursday evening. Hailing all the way from Memphis, Tennessee; this performance was MonoNeon’s only Australian show, and he didn’t disappoint the crowd at this sold out gig.

Much is spoken about MonoNeon being the last bassist who collaborated with the late artist Prince, which led to an unreleased album and a track called ‘Ruff Enuff’ being released on Tidal just before Prince’s passing in February 2016.

With his influences ranging from the likes of Sly and the Family Stone’s bassist Larry Graham, George Clinton (Parliament Funkadelic), Victor Wooten, Frank Zappa and composer/music theorist John Cage to name a few, MonoNeon also brings a range of art form influences to the forefront.

Namely the Dadaist art movement where he states that the sock on his instrument’s headstock relates to artist Marcel Duchamp, who plays a huge influence on his creative output as a whole.

Gaining a huge following on social media and the internet, MonoNeon has become well known for his viral videos, where he harmonises vocalisation on Tik-Tok together with his bass guitar.

Having last performed at this venue in 2019 at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival with Ghost-Note and as a session player with Prince’s band the New Power Generation in 2018, MonoNeon now certainly stands in his own right as an accomplished bandleader.

Donning his signature look, MonoNeon walked onto the stage quilted up in a kaleidoscope of colours, where the venues fluorescent lights found him glowing from head to toe. A ski-mask crocheted in full, vibrant yellow glasses and Adidas kicks emblazoned with ‘MONONEON’ was only a taste of the audiences senses being hit hard.

An equally eccentric band member Blaque Dynamite strutted over to his DW Kit, where his Spiral Stacker FX Cymbals hinted that we were in for a treat. Following Blaque onto stage were two notably young super talents in the form of Charlie Brown, who played keys in the comfort of his socks and the inconspicuously attired guitarist Xavier Lynn.

The evening was indeed a journey, where you found yourself travelling in one direction, only to find yourself funnelling through an eclectic blend of genres, that overlapped yet meshed in ways only a skilled experimentalist can accomplish. Psychedelic funk, eased into soul and gospel, taking us through hints of blues … and it wouldn’t be a Jazz Festival without a slather of ‘jazz’. This performance had everything you wanted, things you never expected, slapped with moments you’ve never experienced.

Known to have used a variety of basses throughout his career, such as Lakland Skyline, BassMods, Callowhill Microtonal Bass, MonoNeon now plays his own signature ‘Fender Jazz Bass® V in Neon Yellow’. Armed with the 22-fret-one piece maple neck, featuring custom wound Fireball™ 5 String Bass Humbucking pickups, he threw out some chunky tones and was certainly battle-ready for the beating it got during the show.

Since 2010, MonoNeon has built quite a substantial solo discography and the evening found him changing up much of his own works, tweaking his tunes in a fashion that brought the audience experimental jazz fusions and so much more.

Opening with the funked up rock rhythms of ‘Hot Cheetos’ from his ‘My Feelings Be Peeling’ album (2019), the show started like a warm up session where the players were finding their place together as a unit. There was so much going on that you felt your senses becoming overwhelmed, at times not sure which direction this performance was going to go.

As the evening progressed, the quartet gelled and gave a performance that truly had to be seen and heard to be believed … words simply can’t justify the ride that we were taken on.

Keyboardist Charlie Brown certainly got hotter as the evening developed, beginning with his fabulous intro to ‘Am I Trippin’ (Banana Peel on Capitol Hill – 2021), where psychedelic funk almost morphed into Ray Manzarek (The Doors) territory.

Brown also played a stunning melodic piano intro that completely got turned on it’s head when MonoNeon’s bass produced sounds reminiscent of ones bodily functions, apt however for the track’s namesake ‘Fartin’ All Ova The World’ (Supermane – 2021). You could see confused expressions on the faces of those who were not familiar with the territory MonoNeon travels to, but smiles on those who understand that music can still be beautiful even when it’s twisted with a hint of stench.

Not long after, drummer Blaque Dynamite blew the place apart with his drum solo before tapping into ‘The Little Green Man’ (Gospel According to The Little Green Man – 2021). Having made quite a name for himself in the U.S, Dynamite was just that … powerful, agile and his speed left the audience in awe, which in turn found his band mates standing back almost saluting in the distance whilst he took control of the venue.

It became apparent as the night went on that Thomas had found himself a breed of beyond extraordinary young musicians to join him on that stage. It goes without saying that independently each of them shone their own light, but together were nothing short of explosive.

Using his guitar as his voice Xavier Lynn had a full fledged conversation with Thomas’s bass, where they bounced to and fro in guitar speak. Before diving into a track called ‘Invisible’ which had tones of the influence of Prince, it was unquestionably his guitar solo that was one of the evenings highlights.

Towards the end of the show, things started to get deep with the uplifting Gospel sounds and lyrics of ‘Supermane’. Beautiful organ sounds and vocals that could have filled a chapel, with MonoNeon leading the chorus and encouraging the audience to join in.

The band chanted “MonoNeon” in unison before they left the stage, returning with an encore where MonoNeon tells the crowd that he will be taking us all home to Memphis playing a stunning blues piece, conjuring the spirit of the great blues rocker Joe Cocker. It was a perfect way to bring us all back down to earth, because the feeling in that room was a literal high.

Each track tonight managed to blend a myriad of genres, techniques and sounds together, it was something you simply couldn’t box or categorise. Heightening all your senses, the show was a journey and experience like no other.

Having recently on-boarded the likes of Mavis Staples and George Clinton on a project he has been working on, MonoNeon is taking on New Zealand for the Wellington Folk Festival, before embarking on a European Tour in 2023, fittingly called ‘The Quilted One Tour’.

MonoNeon is a true genius. In a world where so many artists unsuccessfully try to break the mould, this guy is taking music to places you’ve never been.

Hot Cheetos
Slipping on a Banana Peel
Am I Trippin
Baquiat And Skittles
The Little Green Man
I Wish Our Party Would’ve Last
Fartin’ All Ova The World
DOB (Duo of Bullshiet)
Just Getting High
Life is a Glittery Fuckery

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