I can’t wait to talk about the great music from last night, but it’s only fair to discuss the sound inside the State Theatre in St. Petersburg first, because I have been so openly critical of it in the past, including my last three times there (December and January).
The sound was so miserable for Bobby Lee Rodgers during the Downtown River Jam and for the Snarky Puppy/Motet show and for Lettuce that I offered that one of two things needed to happen:
[A] Molotov cocktail the entire building, or
[B] Make the incompetent sound crew walk the plank (hey, it was Gasparilla Day!).
Apparently, I missed the huge ker-SPLOOSH, because at the soundboard were people who clearly knew how to manage the sound. In fact, they managed it so well that I didn’t need ear plugs for either band, and that is impressive in that building. The reason the Snarky Puppy show was so disappointing, for instance, was that the volume in general and bass specifically were cranked up to Nigel Tufnel levels (that’s 11, kids). Snarky Puppy, the Motet and Lettuce rely on amazing musical nuance, and that nuance was all but lost when they played.
Just wait a gosh darn minute, Hopkins! I saw you with one earplug in during Monophonics’ set. What gives?
Listen, the sound people did an awesome job. The problem was that I could not yell out a collective STFU to the idiots near me. That one earplug blocked many of the conversations going on around me. Except for the one dude who managed to insert two to three ‘like’s into every sentence. Impressive, if simian…
Enough. It was a deluxe night musically, AND I could hear it. ALL of it!
The ticket said doors at 7:30, and you might have thought that Monophonics would be on at 8:30. 8:40? Certainly 8:50. Nope. 9:03. They didn’t know what the delay was, either, but they did say later they were glad people made the best of waiting so long.
Originally slated for a one-hour set, Monophonics were cut back to 45 minutes (and eked out one extra!) They maximized their time with tight, terse versions of some great songs, starting with a Leon Haywood cover, “Long As There’s You (I Got Love).” It was a great start to their set of “black rock,” a description of the melding of late 60s/early 70s soul and psychedelic rock, and Monophonics do it was well as anyone. In a review I wrote for their current CD, In Your Brain, I noted that the songs on the CD could easily have been spinning back in the 70s, fitting in perfectly with the genre just beginning to explode. Nobody would have batted any eye.
The entire set was more of the same. For me, Kelly Finnigan is the definitive soul shouter on the scene. I have seen most of the soul bands and R&B reviews, and nobody matches Finnigan’s impassioned pleading. He blends the animal magnetism of vintage Eric Burdon with the gospel-tinged soul of P-Funk’s Garry Shider.
After you observe the power of the rhythm section’s Myles O’Mahony and Austin Bohlman (bass and drums), you hear the brass marriage of Ryan Scott’s trumpet and the trombone of Nadav Nirenberg. Their approach screams old school soul (in the very best way possible). And you could hear it all, thanks to the sound crew. Ian McDonald’s brief guitar solos were dynamite, perfect in their place. Funk just doesn’t get any better than this. Well, for me, anyway.
If the songs that the band writes and that Finnigan pours out are in any way autobiographical, then these boys know quite a bit about lost love and failed relationships. After the Leon Haywood song, they played a tune from the upcoming April release, Sound of Sinning, called “Promises.” That was followed by a song in which Finnigan pleaded “tell me lies.” He is also a wonderful Hammond B3 player and great on the Fender Rhodes as well.
Keeping with the theme of the show came a tune with the lyrics “You keep going back to him,” and then Finnigan warned about “Deception” (“It’ll be the death of our love”). The band absolutely blasted the psychedelic masterpiece “Foolish Love” through the roof of the State Theatre, and they closed with a strong reading of “Bang Bang,” the Sonny and Cher hit that owes a lot more to the 1968 Terry Reid cover.
It was as perfect a 46-minute set as I can imagine. My favorite song from In Your Brain, “Say You Love Me,” got axed due to the shorter set, but that song plays endlessly in my head anyway. Do check it out on Youtube. Better yet, buy the CD while we’re waiting for the release of Sound of Sinning.
I know I’m a fanboy, but I was impressed to see the sextet make their way out to the merchandise room promptly and spend the rest of the night there talking to folks. By my unscientific survey, I’d say Monophonics made many new admirers this night.
Galactic has been, for me, a true roller coaster ride. When they’re up, they’re way, way, way up. However, when they’re down… I first saw them in ’99, and they were dynamite. When they hit the hip-hop review in ’08, I was not interested. At all. More recently, they had a superb showing at Wanee ’13 and at Bear Creek the same year (at least one of those shows with the vocalist from the Revivalists). Then, January a year ago, they played the Sunshine Music and Blues Festival, and I was unmoved. It seemed flat.
So who was to know which version of Galactic, according TYS-apedia, would show up this tour?
Survey says: the best version possible! They came out throwing down and never, never let up. And, once again, I could actually hear what they were playing! (Take one more bow, sound crew! And another bow to the crew – the set break was only half an hour.)
Also, let’s face it, Stanton Moore IS the coolest drummer on the planet. There might be guys (or ladies) you like more, but not a one of them is cooler than Stanton. FACT.
So Galactic announced that they were in the house with a fabulous opening throw-down; then they brought out Ms. Erica Falls to work her vocal magic. She sounded great and looked awesome as she strutted the stage. After three songs with Falls, she split (to come back numerous times, thankfully).
The next instrumental was deep, deep funk, followed by a very Meters-ish piece that delighted everyone. Then Falls was back for two more really strong songs. Somewhere in the set, Falls and the boys also tore up Aretha’s “Rock Steady.” The vocal tunes were followed by another really hot instrumental tune. Robert Mercurio was in lockstep with Moore, punching the music into our brains. This was probably the best outing I can remember for guitarist Jeff Raines, who just seemed totally, completely on fire.
Speaking of on fire, Ben Ellman was lit up. His tenor sax sounded great, and the baritone was even better. And he was joined by [ ?? ] on trombone, who had a great night adding to the Galactic funk. After that instrumental, the horns stood back to let the rest of the band play a long, mid-tempo bluesy vamp. First, Mercurio and Rich Vogel on organ had some great interplay, followed by Mercurio trading off with Moore, and then it was just The Stanton Show. Damn!
A great middle-Eastern tune followed (“Balkan Wedding?”), and the horns invited up Nirenberg from Monophonics. Galactic gave him great space to take a funky, funky solo. Somewhere earlier, Ellman had played his signature harp. There are different harmonica styles, and many people dig John Popper’s approach. I am in the Ben Ellman camp. He brings out a great, gutsy, blues-drenched feeling.
Vogel had a great keyboard feature, followed by a bass workout by Mercurio. Falls rejoined the band for a really hot tune, trading back and forth with Ellman’s tenor. The next song, a cover of Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” was a perfect showcase for Falls. Vogel got in his best electric piano work on this, the last song of the set.
Falls came out with the sextet for two songs, including a great take on “Does It Really Make a Difference?”
Mark your scorecard: THREE FOR THREE! Great sound, smashing Monophonics set, best Galactic funk ever.
Great to see Sulana and Dan, Dee, Kenny, P.K., Kenny, and (I know you were there) Christian!