By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A Bay Area soul institution for over 15 years, North Bay outfit Monophonics has gradually evolved to become one of San Francisco’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 and noted Motown producer Norman Whitfield’s most tripped-out creations with the Temps and Edwin Starr.
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 latest recording, Sound of Sinning, embraces a different side of the psychedelic era.
Without abandoning distorted guitars and funk breaks altogether, the new Monophonics album offers up intricate orchestrations and slow-burn balladry spotlighting keyboardist Kelly Finnigan’s remarkable pipes while nodding equally to the lush chamber pop of the Beach Boys and the Zombies. In 2015, the band delivered a fiery set on the main Banjo Stage for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival that was a highlight of the Friday performances.
The following year, the group was a featured act at BottleRock in Napa and in 2018 played Outside Lands, completing a trifecta of major Bay Area music festivals. The group also issued their EP Mirrors, a collection of well-known and obscure covers, that tided fans over until the release of their latest full-length effort It’s Only Us in 2020.
Following the path taken by Finnigan on his solo debut Tales People Tell that embraced the languid sounds of lowrider soul, the band’s latest finds the group coming into its own with its lush ballads and intricate string and horn arrangements that at points recall the majesty of classic Curtis Mayfield and Rotary Connection records.
While it was unable to promote the album with touring due to the COVID shutdown, the band recently released a digital only instrumental version of the album. Finally able to return to playing live shows, the band headlines two nights at Bay Area clubs, playing Moe’s Alley in Santa Cruz Thursday night before coming to the Independent in San Francisco Friday. The sold-out show in San Francisco will include fellow Colemine Records artist Alanna Royale as the opening act. The San Francisco show will require proof of vaccination and masking in accordance with the city’s COVID-19 protocols.
Thursday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. $25
Friday, Oct. 1, 8:30 p.m. $22-$25 (sold out)