By Jenny Peters and Andy J. Gordon
Two San Francisco Bay area bands brought their exciting style of soul music to the historic Troubadour in Los Angeles on November 24, 2017. Con Brio opened the show and Monophonics followed, as the fan-packed house danced off their Thanksgiving Day meals during a sweaty, butt-shaking night of high-energy live music.
Formed in 2013, Con Brio is a seven-piece group of diversely talented musicians with a shared love of Bay-area funk and psychedelic soul. Think Sly & the Family Stone, then throw in some Parliament, Sam Cook and Earth Wind & Fire. Fronted by the immensely skilled Ziek McCarter, he brings inspired vocals and acrobatic dance moves that are reminiscent of James Brown and Michael Jackson to the stage.
While McCarter is clearly the focal point, he never monopolizes the stage — each band member had shining moments. It was a shame that the muddy sound mix and dungeon-like stage lighting detracted from the great set, because the energy coming from the band was electrifying. The crowd was boogieing feverishly as Con Brio played several songs from their albums “Paradise” and “Kiss the Sun.”
“Lift Off” had the audience bouncing. Sweet covers of Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” and Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” demonstrated some of the band’s diverse influences. The latter segment of the set had the audience singing along during the contagious tune “Money,” while some were swooning during the sultry “Kiss the Sun.” Marcus Stephens on saxophone and Brandon Liu on trumpet got to show off their chops, while Patrick Glynn on keys added texture to the groove. The set closer was another sultry tune called “A Sex Supreme” that gave the audience a chance to come down from the scorching set with that slow-tempo ballad.
Monophonics headlined the night’s lineup. They formed as an instrumental ensemble in San Francisco in 2005. Vocalist and keyboard player Kelly Finnigan joined the band in 2010. As a group, they have spearheaded the current revival of psychedelic soul and heavy funk that reimagines the vibe from the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Thankfully there were no sound or lighting issues for the Monophonics show. With Finnigan singing and banging away at the keyboards at center stage, the band sounded great. The core group, Austin Bohlman on drums, Max Raney on bass, Ian McDonald on guitar and Ryan Scott on trumpet, were joined for the entire set by Danny Lubin-Laden on trombone and Will Phillips from the Los Angeles band Orgone on percussion.
Originals like “Let Me Down Easy,” “Sure Is Funky” and “Hanging On” got the crowd revved up and dancing enthusiastically. “La La La Love Me” slowed things down as Finnigan crooned that ballad. He then dedicated “Find My Way Back Home” to his parents, who were sitting in the balcony. The band’s catchy tune “Lying Eyes” led into a pleasing tease of Pink Floyd’s “Breathe (in the Air).”
Mike Finnigan, Kelly’s dad, joined the band on keys for the next tune. The senior Finnigan is a prolific keyboard player who toured with legends like Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker and Tower of Power. He was joined on stage by Orgone lead singer Adryon de León for an inspired version of Neil Young’s “Southern Man.” The Finnigans were shoulder-to-shoulder on keys while de León belted out the song.
The show ended with “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” a song written by Sonny Bono and released by Cher in 1966. The Monophonics recorded the frequently covered song in 2012 for their album “In Your Brain.” The band left the stage to loud applause, but returned shortly for an encore. They closed the show with “Holding Back Your Love.”
The electrifying night of old-school soul music proved to the all-ages audience that great music is eternal. With talented musicians who give the sound new life and fans that appreciate the timeless style, retro soul has been reimagined, reborn and revitalized. And that is a very good thing.