Live reviews

REVIEW: Monophonics at the 100 Club

Danny Lubin-Laden and Kelly Finnigan of Monophonics
Photo by Peter Jones

(100 Club. 17 July 2018. Review by Peter Jones)

‘It’s embarrassing to be American right now,’ commented Monophonics’ frontman Kelly Finnigan towards the end of this one-off UK date. Brits know how he feels: these are dismaying times for sentient beings on both sides of the Atlantic. The Monophonics went on to play Neil Young’s Southern Man, with its minatory lyrics about racism (‘Southern change gonna come at last / Now your crosses are burning fast’). But this was untypical of the gig as a whole: the Monophonics are primarily a soul band, working in a genre whose emotional thrust is more often personal than political.

What made this performance so satisfying was its control, its lack of bombast; there were the degrees of light and shade worthy of – dare I say it? – jazz. And although their music isn’t jazz, it’s the sort of music I think jazz fans will like, especially those fond of Dr Lonnie Smith. There are improvised solos, and the six-man line-up includes trombone and trumpet, underpinned by Finnegan’s growling organ and Wurlitzer electric piano. For me, the setting of the hallowed 100 Club was also significant; after all, this was the playground of so many Hammond-led British acts who explored the common ground between soul, r&b and jazz, from Zoot Money to Graham Bond to Brian Auger.
When Finnegan stabbed at the Wurlitzer, it sounded like a rhythm guitar. The Monophonics’ actual guitarist, co-founder Ian McDonald, is a sensitive exponent of the less-is-more school, teasing eloquent, lyrical runs and brief solos from his instrument, leaving the tough stuff to Finnegan and the horn section.

Photo by Peter Jones

The band hails from Marin County, north of San Francisco, and their particular brand of soul is described as ‘psychedelic’. Certainly there is more than a hint of acid rock in their mixture of influences, of which the clearest is Sly and the Family Stone. One can also hear echoes of Otis Redding in Finnigan’s powerful, rasping, passion-drenched voice – which is one of the greatest I’ve ever heard.

Most of the tunes were original; two were debuted at this gig. There were also a couple of cover versions of obscure Northern Soul-type numbers, including Chuck Bernard’s Bessie Girl. The enthusiastic audience participation in Lying Eyes and Promises indicated that the Monophonics have already built a fan-base here in London. The band, now in its 13th year, is clearly still on its way up.

Excellent support was provided by British soulsters Crowd Company, an eight-piece outfit with its own vibrant original material. This band features trumpet and tenor sax and two impressive harmonising vocalists in the shape of Joanne Marshall and Esther Dee.

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