We want the funk
S.F.’s Monophonics return to Chico with a fresh, new jam
Monophonics front man Kelly Finnigan loves to feel his band’s music come alive in front of an audience. “We stick to the script in only a few songs,” the singer/keyboardist said, chatting from the San Rafael sound studio he runs with bandmate Ian McDonald.
The San Francisco-based six-piece is touring in support of its current CD, In Your Brain, and the upcoming Chico show (Monday, July 22) will undoubtedly feature interpretations of the innovative 14-song album that will be unique to that one night at the Sierra Nevada Big Room. “We take a left turn and move around a little bit,” Finnigan added.
It’s not surprising that Finnigan, 31, and the eldest of the Monophonics, got into the business. His father is Mike Finnigan, also a keyboard player and vocalist, who has shared the stage and studio over the past six decades with such musical luminaries as Jimi Hendrix, Peter Frampton, Tracy Chapman, Keb’ Mo’ and Bonnie Raitt.
“I watched my dad for a long time not knowing I was absorbing it,” said Finnigan. But once he committed himself to the music business, his dad said that he was “actually crazy enough to fuckin’ do this. Any creative job is like walking a tightrope. But Dad is all for it. I’ve gotten tips from him and I ask questions.”
The Monophonics’ funky sound is reminiscent of a bad-ass score from an episode of Kojak or a cool, early-’70s Blaxploitation film, and there’s a psychedelic presence as well that makes the band stand out in both funk and jam-band circles. Monster drum beats and provocative bass lines set the band’s bottom end; a funkified trumpet and saxophone add a stirring, Tower of Power vibe; and McDonald’s soulful guitar leads and Finnigan’s dynamic keyboard and vocals complete the picture.
Monophonics was actually a mostly instrumental group before Finnigan joined the fray.
“It was a very organic process,” Finnigan said. “I joined as a sub. I did some recording projects with some of the guys. They said, ‘We know this guy who plays keys and sings a little bit, and we need a sub.’ And we all hit it off and there was like an unspoken feeling that ‘He’s in.’ And I wanted to be in.”
While the members of Monophonics have an obvious reverence for old-school funksters like Sly Stone, George Clinton and Dennis Coffey, they aren’t simply trying to recreate the past.
“We all play vintage instruments in the studio and live,” Finnigan said, “but we’re not a revue or throwback. I think our formula is familiar and comforting, but it’s not ‘older.’ It’s just music that was also popular at an older time.”
In addition to its originals, the band does take on some of that old, popular music as well, reconstituting classics from groups like Sly & the Family Stone (“There’s A Riot Goin’ On”) and War (“Slippin’ Into Darkness), as well as delivering a better-than-the-original take on Cher’s 1966 hit “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down).”
After three visits in three years to Chico’s Lost on Main, the band has built a devoted local following, and Finnigan says they’ve also gotten to know Chico a little bit. “It’s a good place. It’s got a good vibe and it shows a lot of love, and not just because of the college,” he said.
Playing at a bigger venue this time around, in what likely will be a sold-out Big Room, the band is sure to feel even more love than usual. “The crowd, when they are moving and dancing, we feel that,” Finnigan said. “If we give it and they take it and give it back, it’s like a circle of love.”