Friday night, the Crocodile in Belltown hosted two bands that could easily be billed as the best two soul groups in America today. Los Angeles based Orgone and San Francisco’s Monophonics were billed as a musical showdown pitting one band against the other, but the evening turned out to be a match made in funk heaven.
Last time Monophonics were in Seattle, they were opening for blues sensation Gary Clark Jr. at the Neptune. This is where I was first introduced to their style of psychedelic soul. Simply put, I’ve never heard anything like this which may be why it’s so appealing to my ears. Take Isaac Hayes, Sly Stone, Billy Preston, Tower of Power and the Blaxploitation films of the early 70’s and you get Monophonics. To my delight, earlier this year, they announced that they were returning to Seattle to headline a show and I intended to be there.
Round one brought the Monophonics to the stage and they turned up the heat from the very beginning of their set. The six instrumentalists, a tight chugging machine doling out doses of heavy-grooving psychedelic soulful funk, with the raspy howls and bluesy organ riffs of singer/keyboardist Kelly Finnigan adding a nice grittiness to their overall sound. Two-horn section Nadav Nirenberg (trombone) and Ryan Scott (trumpet) managed screaming climaxes along with more rhythmic bursts of brass and bright arrangements, guitarist Ian McDonald showed off his six string prowess with plenty of tasty wah-wah guitar and reverb, Myles O’Mahony laid down thick and boomy basslines, and all save for steady rhythm keeper Austin Bohlman chimed in with a punch of backing vocals to counter Finnigan’s own impressive delivery. While every member is a vital part of the Monophonics sound, Finnigan is the first frontman behind the keys I’ve seen that puts everything into his performance connecting with every person in the crowd often jumping up and pointing to an individual as if he is singing straight to them. Throughout the blistering 75 minute set, the band performed many tracks off their 2012 release, In Your Brain and welcomed Orgone percussionist Chuck Prada and vocalist Adryon de Leon who came out to perform a cover of Neil Young’s “Southern Man” to great satisfaction by the crowd.
Round two was Orgone’s turn. Like Monophonics, the band is primarily known for their instrumental jams, and the songs featuring de Leon on vocals were a mighty force as well. De Leon has got to have one of the best voices in soul music. Several times during their set, I found myself taken aback by de Leon’s voice as she hit some of the highest notes and guitarist Sergio Rios’ soulful playing. Rios resembling a younger Carlos Santana often went into a zone, eyes closed and mouth wide open as he channeled his fingers up and down the guitar neck as if he was a Jedi Master of funk. Much like the Monophonics earlier set, Orgone welcomed Finnigan and McDonald out to perform a couple of songs though the night teasing the audience with what was to come later.
Round three came well after midnight and as promised by Finnigan earlier in the night, blew everyone’s minds. Both bands took the stage to form as a super group of funk. Fourteen musicians packed it in and unleashed an aural assault of horns, organs, congas and guitars. This was a rare case where doubling up the group with excess was a good thing. Both bands complimented each others musicianship which had the crowd clamoring for more as each song ended hoping it wasn’t the finale of the night.
Many funk bands over the years have strived to get to a level that these two bands have achieved sonically but never even come close to where Monophonics and Orgone have journeyed to. What was billed as a match against both bands should have been advertised as Orgone and Monophonics vs the audience because they knocked the crowd out in all three rounds.