My brain is on overload. To misquote Bobby Lee Rodgers: “When the words come tumbling out…” This appears in the order they came tumbling out.
Everyone recognizes that Jazzfest is the world’s biggest throw-down, bar none. Even so, consider this program Friday night at the Howlin’ Wolf in New Orleans, billed Bayou Rendezvous 13. The Bayou Rendezvous All-Stars include Johnny Vidacovich, Col. Bruce Hampton (Ret.), Roosevelt Collier, Ivan Neville, Oteil Burbridge, Duane Trucks, Eric McFadden, Doug Belote and more. Add Kung Fu, TAUK, Polyrhythmics, Gravy, The California Honeydrops and Gravity A. It’s as if somebody scanned my dream and put a show together.
I “forgot” one – two, actually. Monophonics vs. Orgōne. That can’t even be. Seriously, my two favorite funky soul bands on the planet (followed closely by Dumpstaphunk and the Juanjamon Band – don’t judge me: everybody has his or her own list). Each band will play a set, and then they will play together! That’s ridiculous.
Orgōne is heading toward Tampa after that show. Monophonics are drifting back toward the West Coast.
This marked the fourth night in a row of astounding funk shows. It all started Thursday night with Roosevelt Collier’s Birthday Party Bash with Shak Nasti, Bobby Koelble and Roland Simmons. Friday, it was Monophonics in Tampa with Ketchy Shuby, reviewed earlier (see: Monophonics = Psychedelic soul on musicfestnews.com). Saturday, the Juanjamon Band played an outrageous set at Captain Larry’s in Spring Hill, and then it was back to Orlando for Round Two of Monophonics, this time with The Groove Orient.
You know how you see a movie for the second time, and you catch things you missed the first time around? That was the one of the great things about seeing Monophonics twice in three days: I caught nuances and little things I must have missed or overlooked at the Tampa show, which was phenomenal.
Sunday’s setlist was similar to Friday’s, but different aspects of songs emerged, and “Hanging On,” from the new Sound of Sinning, was a great addition. Somehow, the band managed to squeeze onto the tiny Will’s Pub stage, and they made it work. In fact, it was interesting to watch the horns, bass and guitar standing together when they sang, which was a lot.
Before the show, I asked the band about Sound of Sinning (a full review will appear soon). When I reviewed the previous disk, In Your Brain, I said it was cheaper than building your own time machine, because it carried you immediately back to 1970-1972. I mentioned that Sound of Sinning was a step even farther back, to 1968-1969. They agreed.
“We were going for more rock to that sound,” said guitarist Ian McDonald. This was the musical era when soul music met psychedelic rock head on, and the world has never fully recovered (I’m glad to say). “We wanted more vocals, with the whole band singing more.” It worked very effectively on song after song, and they all sing well. Nadav Nirenberg, who plays trombone, wears this great smile when he sings that is very infectious.
It didn’t take long for Monophonics to transition from the happy music (“I Got Love”) to the land of messy relationships: “Promises” and “Lying Eyes.” After an inspired sing-along to “There’s a Riot Going On,” it was back to happy music (briefly): “You Are So Good to Me.”
Monophonics are primarily about compositions and ensemble work, their incredible strength. Solos for the most part were compact but very intense. During the trio section of the program, McDonald and rhythm section mates Myles O’Mahony and Austin Bohlman knocked out a great medley that included “In From the Storm > Third Stone From the Sun > Let the Sun Shine In.” This deservedly got great audience response.
Perhaps due to the smaller room at Will’s, I heard O’Mahony and Bohlman better than I did Friday night. It might not be all about that bass… and drums, but their work is critical to Monophonics’ success. This is incredibly powerful music, and it requires, in fact, demands that punch.
I made it eight paragraphs without mentioning Kelly Finnigan yet. He is, however, impossible to ignore in concert. He is the definitive, consummate soul shouter. His performance from first second to last is positively riveting; he grabs you and takes you with him on his emotional rollercoaster ride.
As the trio entered “Let the Sun Shine In” part of the medley, Finnigan, Nirenberg and trumpeter Ryan Scott rejoined them to belt out the last part of the song. Then Finnigan led the room on another sing-along for “La La La Love Me,” lamented during “Find My Way Back Home,” and offered a cover of New People’s “I’d Be Nowhere Today.” These are songs about life and love, joy and pain (sunshine and rain). Scott had a tremendous solo on this tune.
Finnigan next had a request: “Please listen to the words and then sing along. I guarantee they’ll make you feel better.” I’m paraphrasing; he said it better than that. They played a tune from the first Funkadelic album: “I Got a Thing, You Got a Thing, Everybody’s Got a Thing.” The message is so simple – and so important: we need to love and take care of each other.
“Say You Love Me” is a pleading soul ballad. “Oh, my days are consumed with thoughts of you. Can’t get you off my brain, no matter what I do.” And then Finnigan plays this little organ trill between “You could be my lady” and “And I could be your man; I want to be your man.” I am a crybaby. Tears in my eyes Friday and Sunday. DAMN.
Finnigan also took a great organ solo on this song. On Friday, Scott and Nirenberg played this wonderful Al Green horn vamp, but clearly I missed Friday what I was so thrilled to hear Sunday: a segue into “Love and Happiness!” Just amazing! Scott and McDonald said they were looking to put even more kick into that horn figure, and they succeeded brilliantly.
After crushing that mood with “Deception,” Finnigan said, “We’ve played a lot of songs. Happy song, sad songs. ARE YOU READY TO PARTY?” Screams all through the room! And with that McDonald led the band into “Holding Back Your Love” with this wicked evil guitar reminding you of “Red Hot Mama.” It was awesome.
The band left the stage. Finnigan went partway down the stairs, then back up to his keyboards. “There’s nowhere to go in here. I know they’re over there (other side of the wall). Do you want to hear one more song? You’ve got to make some noise!” We followed directions.
Finnigan’s clavinet punctuated the beginning of Monophonics romping, stomping “Foolish Love.” More than ever, the background vocals were right out front, with all four (except drummer Bohlman) backing Finnigan. Then we got to the call and response, and I for one almost lost my voice. “We sing, NA NA NA NA NA; you sing, NA NA NA NA NA!” The show ended with a tight, spot-on reading of their most recognized song, a cover of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down).”
If there is a better soul band out there, I look forward to seeing it. But I’m not holding my breath. Birmingham, they’re coming for you Wednesday night before their much-anticipated return to New Orleans!
This assumes they survive the Bayou Rendezvous! Orgōne are travelling from Los Angeles and are bringing their funky soul or soul-dripping funk to WMNF’s Musical Bacchanalia, Tropical Heatwave. Their two performances at the 2014 Bear Creek Music and Arts Festival at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park last November were stunning. Vocalist Adryon de Leon got everyone in a frenzy, and Sergio Rios and this amazing band kept everyone mesmerized through both sets. Dale Jennings killed it on bass! The Friday set also featured sit-ins from Roosevelt Collier and George Porter, Jr.
They are on the same time-travelling journey with Monophonics. You would swear that you were seeing a performance from Wattstax or Fillmore: the Last Days. Orgōne mixes excellent original music from their new album, Behind the Sun, with songs from their previous efforts and fabulous covers such as “Funky Nassau and “Keep the Fire Burning.”
Orlando’s own The Groove Orient opened the show for Monophonics. This eclectic quintet can hit grooves from alt-country to Southern rock to jammy funky and avant-garde, and they managed all of that at the Sunday show. Tommy Shugart’s keyboards sounded great; he is featured on the excellent new Savi Fernandez Band album From My Heart. Chuck Magid is an energetic frontman with a great voice in addition to his guitar-playing.
Bassist Harry Ong often sings, as he did on the angular “Generation Y” from the band’s new CD. Percussionist David Vanegas picked up the bass to let Ong strut during the closing cover of “Whipping Post.” Paul Terry laid done solid drums grooves for the band the entire set.
The Groove Orient will perform several shows with blues singer Kaleigh Baker; the first is Saturday, May 2nd, at Casselberry’s Earthfest. They will join forces again at the Social on May 29th.
[MONOPHONICS: I Got Love, Promises, Lying Eyes, There’s a Riot Going On, You Are So Good to Me, Sure is Funky, Thinking Black, Sound of Sinning, Hanging On, 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, You Got a Thing, Everybody’s Got a Thing, Say You Love Me, Deception, Holding Back Your Love; E: Foolish Love, Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)]
Photos courtesy of Beatrice von Nagel