The Monophonics at Moe's Alley, by Joshua Huver
The Monophonics (photo: Joshua Huver)

Often mistaken for outright passion or “The Funk,” soul as a genre is a musical style that slowed without stopping. Its decline in the mainstream mostly halted in a one-off track on an album here and there helped keep it alive, but soul seems to be gaining new traction.

Rather than employ the raw emotion of music on limited tracks, the energetic six-piece groove of San Francisco-based the Monophonics wholeheartedly embrace the fiery inspiration of soul in every note they play.

Last Friday, April 15, the sextet squeezed themselves onto the small stage at Moe’s Alley in Santa Cruz and delivered a full-on tutorial in feeling the music. The group features a slew of talented musicians, but the supreme vocals and sharp, whole body gestures of keyboardist and lead singer Kelly Finnigan evoke the spirit of the late and great Joe Cocker, magnetizing the performance and captivating the crowd.

The uplifting run-through of tunes varied within the soul spectrum while retaining a wholly West Coast vibe across roots dub, funk celebrations, and a creeping rock and roll presence in the same vein as Cake. Such a lighthearted approach to an intense exposure of soul can only pass when it is authentic, and even in the face of technical malfunctions it was obvious there was nobody faking anything.

The Monophonics at Moe's Alley, by Joshua Huver

When Myles O’Mahony’s bass stopped responding early in the Monophonics’ set, the band was hardly slowed down. Guitarist Ian McDonald, drummer Austin Bohlman, and the horn section of Nadav Nirenberg on trombone and trumpeter Ryan Scott (who also doubles on percussion — read: cowbell) alternated making space for the sound engineer to investigate the signal path and taking turns improvising, eventually returning to the song once the problem was solved and without missing a beat.

With a bluesy, psychedelic slop sound peeking out from beneath the blanket of soul, the Monophonics propagate a tone common across rock and R&B melded sounds. Musical peers with groups like G. Love and Special Sauce or The Nth Power, not being afraid of going off script and in the direction the music takes you. From song to song the attitude can be as different as a long-winded tale through Bill Withers’ story and upbeat Arabian melodies.

With a heavy rotation of West Coast appearances, the Bay Area is privileged to be the home base of so many talented groups. Do yourself a favor and make sure you acquaint yourself with the feel good vibrations of The Monophonics. They have seven dates throughout California between May and June before jetting to Floydfest 2016 in Floyd, Virginia.

El Duo at Moe's Alley, by Joshua Huver

Opening the evening was the eccentric two-man band appropriately dubbed El Duo. Hailing from across the Bay in Oakland, the pair brings plenty of individual chops to their collaboration. Drummer and producer Randy Schwartz has worked with the likes of Brett Dennen and Illumination while keyboard and kazoo player Harrison Murphy has experience with smaller area bands.

A self-described blend of lo-fi electronics and afro-beat dance grooves combine with an endless imagination and natural sense of wonder that audiences find captivating. Their next scheduled event is a recurring house party in Berkeley on April 29 and features fellow Bay Area sounds from Briget Boyle and Les Ameriquains.

Photos by Joshua Huver