By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A Bay Area funk institution for over a decade, Monophonics has gradually evolved to become one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s most creative purveyors of psychedelic soul. Founded by drummer Austin Bolman in 2005, the quintet initially mined a vein of instrumental jazz-funk similar to boogaloo revivalists The Sugarman 3, Soulive and the Greyboy Allstars — whose saxophonist, Karl Denson, guested on the crew’s 2010 album Into the Infrasounds.
The group’s third album, 2012’s In Your Brain, showed the results of what sounded like the members of Monophonics doing some serious “woodshedding” in the Temptations’ “Psychedelic Shack.” Introducing a fuzzed-out guitar sound soaked in Echoplex delay, tunes like “Sure Is Funky,” “All Together,” and the title track were reminiscent of the acid-laced grooves of early Funkadelic, noted Motown producer Norman Whitfield’s most tripped-out creations with the Temps and Edwin Starr and the early epic excursions of Isaac Hayes.
The album also featured a stellar cover of “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” that holds its own against the timeless Nancy Sinatra and Terry Reid versions of the Sonny Bono-penned classic and pointed towards the next turn the band’s sound would take. While still steeped in the ’60s sound, the band’s next recording, Sound of Sinning, embraced a different side of the psychedelic era. Without abandoning distorted guitars and funk breaks altogether, the effort offered up intricate orchestrations and slow-burn balladry that nod equally to the lush chamber pop of the Beach Boys and the Zombies.
Since that album’s release, the band delivered fiery sets on the main Banjo Stage at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco, the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival and BottleRock in Napa. Monophonics play a pair of shows this weekend in their local fan stronghold of Marin County, headlining two nights at the Sweetwater to celebrate their new covers EP Mirrors which just came out this week. Featuring the band’s interpretations of songs both well known (a simmering instrumental take on the Seals & Croft hit “Summer Breeze,” a fuzzed-out version of Frankie Valli’s “Beggin'” and a unique spin on the Mamas and Papas’ “California Dreaming”) and obscure (the Invincibles’ “My Heart Cries,” Black Merda’s “Lying” and the breakbeat-powered Nu People’s “I’d Be Nowhere Today”), Mirrors offers a hard-grooving look at the band’s pop, soul and psychedelic influences. The band will be joined by Oakland-based funk crew the Grease Traps (Friday) and like-minded instrumentalists the M-Tet (Saturday).
Friday, Feb. 16-17, 8 p.m. $30-$35 (two-day ticket $50)
Sweetwater Music Hall