LIVE: The Montecristos – Wilton Hall, London, 26.03.2015

The extravagantly attired group put the art into artifice and the mode into post-modern, before a disastrous union with (s)hitmakers Stock Aitken and Waterman saw them consigned to the dustbin of history, with subsequent internal disputes ruling out any reformation.

Aside from being part of Marc Almond’s touring band, guitarist Neal X showcased his new ensemble The Montecristos with a special one-off gig to launch debut album, Born To Rock ‘n’ Roll, at Wilton Hall. Promising an extravaganza of thrills, spills, music, magic and mayhem and special guests, the band contains trumpet, saxophone and double bass and is compered by X looking like a Rocka-Billy Smart in top hat and tails. It didn’t disappoint.

‘Atlantic Surf’ introduces the band, an instrumental redolent of Dick Dale’s brooding benchmark ‘Miserlou’ all in keeping with X’s roots and inspirations, quickly followed by ‘Born To Rock and Roll’ – a deft nod to Eddie Cochran, from the riff down to the “take me to the church … and Satan’s in a Zoot suit” imagery. ‘Hotel Pelirocco’ is named after Brighton’s “boutique rock and roll hotel”, a garish themed Disneyfied hell-hole for any aspiring wannabes who wish to surround themselves with ersatz echoes. The (Made in) Chelsea Hotel.

The elephant in this circus is Sputnik. We are told that X has now reconciled with his past and launches into a Stray Cattish rendition of ‘Hey Jayne Mansfield Superstar!’, his repetitive riffs a reminder of the effective simplicity of his former band’s oeuvre. ‘Brand New Cadillac’ sees synth-pop-sex-dwarf himself, Marc Almond, take the mic for a barnstorming airing of Vince Taylor’s 1960 rock cornerstone. Almond’s presence allows X to relax as he settles into a faithful and rollicking version if highlighting X’s vocal hesitancy.

‘Badfinger Twang’ is an instrumental which is a cross between The Cramps’ classic ‘Human Fly’ and Duane Eddy’s ‘Peter Gunn’, albeit with backing dancers that evoke the opening cringeworthy credits to Strictly Come Dancing. The ever-potent ‘Love Missile F1-11’ is delivered in a rockabilly style that merges into ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ and back again; X marks his spot.

‘Dirty Little Low Life’ is another ditty about the little town flirts who wreak havoc on the emotions of the weak-willed male, featuring a great recurring riff backed by nagging horny action. It’s the standout song on the LP. ‘#Selfie’ is the only concession to “now” in title and sentiment, albeit set to a bluesy chug, it is an ode to the narcissistic predilection for capturing and transmitting images of undress: “You’re a picture of affection… just a picture that is all… I didn’t give my number so you could make a call… baby… send a selfie to myyyyy phone”

The band encore with the classics ‘C’mon Everybody’ and ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ with long-time collaborator Tomoyasu Hotei, singer-songwriter and creator of the Kill Bill theme song. If at times it feels like hearing a good wedding band replete with classics, this is in keeping with X’s past, a love letter to history and his place within it. A pleasing return.

The Montecristos, count on ‘em…

Kemper Boyd