Monophonics & Polyrhythmics 10.30.15

Nectar Lounge
Seattle, WA

Words By Coleman Schwartz
Photos By Scott Shrader (J. Scott Shrader Photography)

San Francisco-based Monophonics brought their unique brand of psychedelic soul to Nectar Longue in Seattle for this 2-night Halloween co-headlining extravaganza with local favorites the Polyrhythmics. Both sold out shows lived up to the high expectations held by fans of either bands, and then some. On Friday (10.30), or Mischief Night as some like to call it, the Polyrhythmics kicked things off.

As the Polyrhythmics took the stage at their home venue, they seemed relaxed and prepared to crush. From the very start, they made use of Monophonics’ full light rig, controlled and setup by their Lighting Designer, Josh Worth. This rig was much more extensive than I had seen them use before, including full front wash lighting which definitely added a new element to their performance. To start off the run, they played “The Mendo Mulcher.” This song is based around a slower funk groove with soaring horn harmonies overlaid throughout. “Maruken” came next, speeding up the tempo and allowing the rhythm section (drummer Grant Schroff, percussionist Lalo Bello, and bassist Jason Gray) to seriously get going. Bello’s percussion work in particular shined on this track, adding the perfect accents to get people really dancing. “Le Hustle” placed the emphasis firmly on the band’s exceptional horn section (trumpeter Scott Morning, trombonist Elijah Clark, and saxophonist Art Brown). Gray’s bass bombs punctuated their lines perfectly, allowing their sound to fill up every part of the room. The following song, “Labrador,” continued to focus on horn driven funk, with a nice sax solo from Brown and keyboardist Nathan Spicer evoking memories of ’97 Phish cow-funk on his clavinet.

After a brief pause, the band took things in a different direction by playing “Moonroof.” This song is an extremely relaxing, smooth number with a laid back tempo. The jazzy, ever-rising horn parts at the start seriously made me feel as if I was driving down a quiet country road late at night with my roof open. This gave way to a great organ solo by Spicer, and the song then segued into a tune called “Crippled Crabs.” This song was based around a brilliantly funky riff from guitarist Ben Bloom, which served as an excellent playground for full-band interplay. At this point, the band seemed to have fully gelled with all eight members acting as a single entity. The song concluded with Bloom trading licks with Spicer’s organ, and the crowd’s enthusiasm was extraordinary. Over wild applause, the dissonant opening horn licks to “Libra Stripes” rang out. As Spicer interplayed with his keyboard, the atmosphere got progressively weirder over the course of the song. It was awesome to see how they put on such a diverse show. The band turned to “Liam Rides a Pony” next. This tune features outstanding trombone work from Clark, and more spacey clavinet sounds from Spicer. The crowd began to move once again, and the band ran with the energy by launching into “El Fuego.” This song makes me think of a Brazilian skyscraper catching aflame. During the slow build at the start it sounds like alarm bells are ringing (horns) and many people are filing down through the staircases (staccato guitar riff and Latin percussion). The tempo gradually speeds up throughout the song, as the blaze grows and burns down the building, with the alarms only becoming more emphatic and frantic (particularly due to the astounding trumpet vibrato skills of Morning).

Following this odyssey, the band debuted a new tune, dubbed “Au Jus.” This one was actually quite rock-influenced compared to the rest of their songs, which was unexpected. It went over very well with the crowd and I look forward to hearing it many more times. Spicer, Bloom and Gray brought us back into funk-land with the next tune, “Mr. Wasabi Rides Again.” The dark, distorted intro was a perfect canvas for Brown to overlay some stellar flute work. Schroff and Bello popped in and out of a perfect groove with the most interesting timing before the short tune ended. The band then invited Mars Lindgren from Monophonics up to the stage, adding a second trombone to the mix for a cover of Lucky Brown’s “Jessie’s Party.” The expanded instrumentation suited the old-school deep-funk cut well, and the packed house was raucous. To close the set, the band turned to old favorite “Nurple.” This track was a very smooth way to wind down a great opening set. It was clear that the band could have continued, but this evening belonged to Monophonics.

Setlist: The Mendo Mulcher, Maruken, Le Hustle, Labrador, Moon Roof > Crippled Crabs, Libra Stripes, Liam Rides a Pony, El Fuego, Au Jus, Mr. Wasabi Rides Again, Jessie’s Party, Nurple

After the crowd had a chance to catch their breath, Monophonics took the stage to an excited room. Keyboardist/vocalist, Kelly Finnigan, was quick to catch the crowd’s attention with his voice, which is among the most effortlessly soulful that I have ever heard. The song “Lying Eyes” began with some excellent psychedelic guitar work from Ian McDonald, before Finnigan took over the spotlight with his roaring, Jim Morrison-esque pipes. Harmony vocals from the rest of the band members were light and floaty in a similar manner to that of Seattle psych rockers the Electric Prunes. This song had a brilliant hook (“and I don’t believe her!”) that could spin around in your head for days. Their music truly does have a timeless quality to it, and I got the feeling that nearly anyone I knew could enjoy this show. As they played through “Promises,” Finnigan did an excellent job of interacting with the crowd. His piercing blue eyes roamed the room, making eye contact with nearly everyone brave enough to return it. As he sang, he gestured wildly with his entire body (even while playing keys), making it clear just how personal these lyrics were to him. The wonderful horn section of trumpeter, Ryan Scott, and trombonist, Mars Lindgren were featured very prominently on this track, as they beautifully filled in the gaps in Finnigan’s vocals and perfectly complemented the mix.

“There’s A Riot Goin’ On” gave both Finnigan and McDonald a great chance to get weird with electronic effects and vocal distortion. Bassist, Myles O’Mahony, did an outstanding job of commanding the groove with his playing, which set the perfect stage for Austin Bohlman’s bouncy, emphatic drumming. “You Are So Good To Me” left the crowd’s collective jam hanging down to the ground, as Finnigan earnestly screamed his heart out for us, while dancing excitedly. He was a ball of fire onstage, and his energy seemed at times to threaten the very integrity of the building. By the time the group made it to “Sound of Sinning,” the title track off their new album, the venue was going absolutely wild. Many people were heard saying that Finnigan was the most soulful singer that they had ever heard perform live, and I found myself in total agreement. The man sings as if his heart was ripped from his chest and run over by a train, but he is somehow still alive and well.

“Sound of Sinning” segued into a nice cover of the chorus of the Talking Heads “Psycho Killer,” which featured tight grooving from the entire band as they nailed the feel of the song. After leading a giant singalong, the horns left the stage and we were treated to an extended segment of the core quartet of the band at their most instrumentally virtuosic. The song played, “Power the Trio” contained extensive improvisation and multiple Jimi Hendrix teases, as I definitely heard “Voodoo Chile” and “Third Stone from the Sun,” among others. Their versatility was quite impressive, as the musicians demonstrated their ability to impress with or without expanded instrumentation.

As the horns returned to the stage, Finnigan paused to implore the crowd to follow their dreams and to be grateful for their friends and families who were understanding enough to allow them to go out and do so. His messages when speaking to the crowd were overwhelmingly positive, a stark contrast to the often sad content of his lyrics. I believe him to ideally personify soul as a genre, because he does such a great job of presenting his lyrics in such a way that makes them seem uplifting and encouraging. Soul is all about appreciating the beauty of sad situations and the triumph that results from overcoming them.

The band worked their way through the rest of the set, even inviting Bello to the stage for “Holding Back Your Love” to add some additional percussive texture. For the encore, they dazzled the late-night warriors remaining in the thinned out crowd with a great version of their song “Bang Bang,” before bringing out ALL OF the Polyrhythmics for the final tune, “Water Get No Enemy.” The newly assembled 14-piece funk and soul orchestra absolutely destroyed an extended cut of this song, with the five exceptionally talented horn players basically running the show. This was the perfect way to close out the evening and allow the audience to dance themselves out of energy.

Setlist: Pressure, Lying Eyes, Promises, There’s A Riot Goin’ On, You Are So Good to Me, Sure Is Funky, My World is Empty, Sound of Sinning > Psycho Killer, Power the Trio, La La La Love Me, Hanging On, Find My Way Back Home, Foolish Love, Deception, Say You Love Me, Holding Back Your Love

Encore: Bang Bang, Water Get No Enemy

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  1. Quite a "soulful" review. I really enjoy reading Coleman's expressive writing. Each of his reviews has allowed me to experience the music even though I was not able to attend the shows. This man has a way with words!

  2. Another excellent review, Coleman Schwartz! You made me feel like I was there.


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