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Monophonics baptize Charlotte in the funk

Old-school psychedelic soul wins Bay-Area band believers

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It was almost a "Clapton is here" moment last May at the Double Door Inn. What started out as a small Thursday night crowd slowly developed into a packed house as patrons contacted friends via cell phones and told them about the energetic performance being put out onstage. But it wasn't Slowhand who had people pouring through the doors for more than an hour after the show started, it was the psychedelic soul of San Francisco's Monophonics.

"You hope that when people are on their phone they either want to take a picture or they're texting a friend and not bored to tears," singer/keyboardist Kelly Finnigan recalls. "It's not a common thing where you play and the room starts to build and the energy gets stronger where you can feed off of it and pass it right back to the crowd. If you're having fun, we're having fun."

The Monophonics, who will return to the Double Door on April 13, will likely have a larger crowd to start off the night thanks to that performance last year. Shows like that are rare for the band, but the sextet always feeds off of the room's energy.

"People come out to see music, but then it gets to the point where they find themselves way more into it than they expected," Finnigan says. "People jump on board and let the music carry them. Improvisation is definitely a part of our music — you have to be able to (musically) stretch out when you need to."

Monophonics don't see themselves as a band trying to revive a bygone era or even as a retro or tribute act. They aim for a freshness in the familiarity of their sound — a combination of Sly & The Family Stone, James Brown and Parliament-Funkadelic playing the greatest hits of Stax Records.

"A lot of older people will hear us and say, 'I was alive when this happened the first time and saw James Brown,' and the other side where people are blown away that someone's still making music that sounds this way," Finnigan says. "The music from that period really touches us. Bringing that vibe and energy is what we're about. It's not a revival or bringing a retro sound back. It's just the sound and style we like. We want people to recognize us as a 2013 band. When we get on stage, we just wanna fuckin' rock."

What started as an instrumental outfit with guest vocal appearances, quickly transformed once Finnigan joined in 2010, giving the group a full-time singer. And Finnigan's vocals have strong roots. His father is session musician known for his work as a member of Taj Mahal's Phantom Blues Band along with touring and recording sessions with Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, Etta James, Crosby Stills & Nash, Buddy Guy, Peter Frampton, Leonard Cohen and Bonnie Raitt, to name a few.

Finnigan says he learned a lot about work ethic from watching his father and now that both are active musicians, the conversations and bond between them has changed.

"My dad is my biggest influence — I've watched him more than any other performer and I learned a lot about work ethic from him," Finnigan says. "I've heard plenty of crazy and funny stories. Now, we have conversations that we didn't have years ago. I'll tell him about a club and he'll tell me he played there 40 years ago. It's cool to be able to bond like that."

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