by Yasmine Shemesh
If one didn’t know any better, they’d think they were in a nightclub in the 1960s.
The dance floor was packed with stylish kids twisting and loved-up couples twirling. Sultry grooves blasted out of the speakers through a haze of marijuana smoke. It was a time warp at Fortune Sound Club on December 3, 2014 — a nostalgia effectuated by Monophonics, the Bay Area psychedelic soul band whose mind-melting jams have been widely celebrated for their authenticity to the traditions of classic-era funk.
Local R&B-garage group the Valuables started the evening off, transforming the room into the Happy Days diner with “ah-one-two-three-four.” A seven-piece ensemble complete with a swinging horn section, the band’s feel-good set was full of jaunty guitar, pummelling bebop drums, and dynamic vocals that bounced back and forth between saxophonist Michelle DuGuay’s sweet alto and guitarist Corey Poluk’s jazzy tone.
Formed amidst the abundant musical culture of San Francisco, Monophonics carry the psychedelia customs of the Haight-Ashbury district’s Summer of Love and tip their hats to the likes of Sly & the Family Stone, Otis Redding, and Curtis Mayfield (to name a few) while keeping their own sound fresh and current. The group took the stage with no fuss, turning up the heat through a blistering set that coated the crowd with thick, funky arrangements, wet wah-wah guitar, and screaming climaxes. The six-piece performed a combination of cuts from their latest release, In Your Brain, as well as a few new songs like “Promises;” a moody swamp set to be released early next year.
Lead singer Kelly Finnigan was all at once Wilson Pickett and George Clinton, rising out of his seat with fervour and gesturing like a Southern preacher as he lay down bluesy organ on his keyboard. His powerful rasp was compelling on “Sure Is Funky,” which saw extra syrupy lines from bassist Myles O’Mahony. Monophonics nodded to their early days as an instrumental outfit with a sublime cover of Seals & Croft’s “Summer Breeze” and then “Thinking Black,” a slinky boogie which showed off the band’s musical prowess with a squealing trombone solo from saxophonist Alex Baky’s stand-in, Darren Cardoza; bright bursts of trumpet from Ryan Scott; drummer Austin Bohlman’s splashy percussion; and wailing riffs courtesy of guitarist Ian McDonald, who leaned into the groove with his eyes shut in passion.
The encore hungry crowd got their fill with “Foolish Love,” and, finally, a heavy, funky, and sweaty rendition of Sonny Bono’s “Bang Bang,” to which audience members hugged each other and jumped for joy at first chord of the highly anticipated track. Then, with thank-you’s and we-love-you’s, Monophonics left, forwarding the clock back to 2014 and leaving nothing behind but good vibes.
Published online at www.vancitybuzz.com, December 2014