The contrast could not have been more stark. “I don’t believe her, NO, NO, NO, and her lying eyes,” he sang, and you believed every word he sang. EVERY. WORD.
“He” was Kelly Finnigan, the incomparable soul belter and keyboard player for Monophonics, in Tampa (at the Crowbar) from San Francisco on an east coast and Southern swing, heading toward New Orleans, with stops in Boca Raton Saturday (April 25) and Orlando (April 26). This was a stunning performance. There may be funky soul bands on the road today as good as Monophonics, but I guarantee you there are none better.
Finnigan is so magnetic, so engaging, and so good that he had the entire crowd involved in a sing-along – on the very first song after a short (HOT) instrumental intro. It was impossible NOT to sing “There’s a riot… going on!” It is a song of incredible social importance and passion, and Finnigan wrung every last drop out of it.
It’s hard to say how Finnigan would sound backed by a mediocre band; I hope we never find out. Monophonics without Finnigan are superb; he just puts them over the top. When the band was here in January opening for Galactic, their one-hour set was chopped to 46 minutes. Last night, we got the full two-hour treatment, and I am beginning to exhaust my list of superlatives.
This time out, we got a great segment from the rhythm section of Myles O’Mahony and Austin Bohlman (bass and drums) with guitarist Ian McDonald. On the band’s setlist (and thanks, John, for letting me photo it, since you beat me to it), the song was listed as *Trio The Power*. It was “In From the Storm > Third Stone From the Sun > Let the Sun Shine In.” It was every bit as good as the titles suggest.
The band’s second album with Finnigan, Sound of Sinning, was released just last week, and they played eight of its 11 songs as well as seven from their time-travelling 2012 disk, In Your Brain. You weren’t around to catch the nascence of psychedelic soul in the late 60s and 70s (or don’t remember)? No matter. Just listen to these two albums. Oh, and go check out Monophonics live.
The band performs some joyous songs, but, as the title track of the new album suggests, these gentlemen know a thing or three about deception, lying, temptation, foolish love, and, well, the sound of sinning. When Finnigan sings these songs – wrong – when he begs and pleads and moans them, he touches his heart, and it is by no means an empty gesture. If there is a better soul singer out there today, I have not seen or heard him yet, and I have heard a few. Not bad for “One Funky Irishman,” the name he uses for publishing his music.
Trombone player Nadav Nirenberg is not on the new recording, and the only reason I can determine is that the album was completed before he joined the band. What a superb addition he is! Everyone but drummer Bohlman sings, and it is really beautiful when five of them are singing in harmony and in unison. Nirenberg and Ryan Scott on trumpet add incredible punch to every song. The one reason you would know that these CDs weren’t recorded in the 70s is that they sound too good, too well recorded. And the songs are so well crafted and choreographed. Toward the end of “Thinking Black,” for instance, Scott adds the perfect touch of maracas to the end of the song. Also, these two looked great with their jackets on! Details, details! They matter.
The piano is a percussion instrument: it requires the hammers to hit the strings. We don’t normally think of an organ in the same way, but Finnigan beats his keyboard up on song after song, so emotive is he in his playing as well as his singing. Then he had a request: “We got a special song. I want you to listen to the words and sing along. I promise you’ll feel better.” With that, the band lovingly covered “I Got a Thing, You Got a Thing, Everybody’s Got a Thing” (from the first Funkadelic album). And he was right!
At the January show, they had to cut my favorite Monophonics song, “Say You Love Me,” due to the shortened set. Not last night! It was more than I could have dreamed. This is a heart-felt ballad which still came through with a preacher’s passion. The horns were playing this killer Al Green vamp, and Finnigan took his best organ solo of the night.
After “Deception” (and you could surmise what that’s about), Finnigan asked the raucous, riveted crowd “It’s Friday! Are you ready to party?” Over the top of the shrieking, McDonald’s guitar started throwing “Red Hot Mama”-like flames as the band played “Hold Back Your Love.” End of set!
Finnigan walked back out. “So, the fact that you’re still here means you want to hear one more song, right. Two more songs? Three more songs?” Roars from the crowd each time he upped the ante. “Well, you have to make enough noise to get the boys to come back out!” We did.
First, Finnigan asked whether anybody had a bad week. This was a song about when that happens: “Falling Apart,” a heart-rending ballad. Then it was on to the romp and stomp and call-and-response segment of “Foolish Love.” “We sing: ‘Na na na na na!’ You sing: ‘Na na na na na!’” Bohlman was killing it on drums. And finally, it was time for the cover that put them on the map: “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down).” Just WOW. After the show, all six members again made sure to spend time signing autographs and talking to old fans and new.
Boca Raton tonight with the Hip Abduction at the Funky Biscuit, Orlando Sunday with the Groove Orient at Will’s Pub, on to Birmingham and then Jazz Fest for Monophonics. Be there. Aloha.
DO YOU WANT TO TALK INSANITY? How about this? Next Friday at the Howlin’ Wolf in New Orleans: Bayou Rendezvous 13 with the Bayou Rendezvous All-Stars (WOW), Orgone vs. Monophonics, Kung Fu, TAUK and more. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? That’s what heaven sounds like!
Promoter Phil Benito of Brokenmold Entertainment could not have found a better opening act to pair with Monophonics than Ketchy Shuby, a quintet out of Miami (and singer Jay reminded us about two dozen times, just in case we forgot). They all work black shirts and black jackets and looked (for the most part) just like the bands did in the late 60s and 70s (I was there, and I do remember).
Ketchy Shuby (the name of a Peter Tosh song, incidentally) had a great set at the AURA Music and Arts Festival in March and another at the recent Dunedin Brewery Spring Beer Jam. This was a great, great performance, tempered by the fact that front man Jay Hernandez-Rodriguez announced at show’s end that this was the last show for their excellent keyboard player and saxophone and flute player as well.
Ketchy Shuby’s show would have, for the most part, fit perfectly into the 70s, except possibly for such song titles as “She’s White as Cocaine” and “Black Areolas.” Also Jay is a bit cruder than he needs to be. We appreciate the offer to see his “black nips,” but, really, no thanks. And that was before he started doing shots. *SIGH*
The band plays great pop soul music with excellent vocal harmonies. During a very hot instrumental, there was a great synthesizer solo, guitar feedback solo, a great tenor solo and very strong bass lines throughout. They closed with a strong song called “Baton Rouge” that started out midtempo and continued to elevate, with flute, electric piano and then organ (Farfisa Doors-style).
[MONOPHONICS: Dr. & the Diamond, There’s a Riot Going On, You Are So Good to Me, Sure is Funky, Promises, Lying Eyes, Thinking Black, Sound of Sinning, Hanging On, Trio: the Power (In From the Storm > Third Stone from the Sun > Let the Sun Shine In), La La La Love Me, Find My Way Back Home, I’d Be Nowhere Today, I Got a Thing, Say You Love Me, Deception, Hold Back Your Love; E: Falling Apart, Foolish Love, Bang Bang]