It was sometime in the summer of 1999 when I first saw Soulive at a tiny club called Baby Jupiter on the Lower East Side of New York City. These three young guys strolled onstage in nice suits and proceeded to blow my mind with their fiery mix of jazz, soul, funk, hip-hop, and more. I was hooked and I have seen them about 15 times since then. I followed the band as they quickly moved to bigger clubs like the Wetlands and then to headlining spots at venues like The Bowery Ballroom and Irving Plaza. Along the way they have performed and recorded with John Scofield, released their first album on Blue Note, Doin Something, to very positive reviews, and most recently opened for Dave Matthews
Band in large amphitheaters.
So, it was as if things had come full circle for me when I was once again in a tiny club on the Lower East Side last night to see Soulive. Only this time it was at the Mercury Lounge where Soulive performed an unannounced, almost top-secret show under the name Summer Soulstice. The band delivered what I consider one of the legendary shows in the their short history. Easily the best of the 15 or so that I have seen them play. Beyond the incredible music and energy that Soulive brought last night, they also displayed a striking level of musical maturity. They’ve reached the point where they can play a show like they did last night.
The first set was very loose and almost experimental. They played some very rare originals and covers and stretched every song out longer than usual. Many of these songs were played for the first time ever or the first time in a year or two last night. The band looked to be having fun and testing themselves, in a way, in front of the small crowd of true fans and friends. The experimental feel of this set was exemplified by "Rudy's Way." This was a complete re-working of this relatively old school Soulive original into a much faster-paced version that seemed closer to the style of their newer
songs like "Hurry Up And Wait." You really had to listen closely to hear the old "Rudy's Way," but yet it was still "Rudy's Way," if you know what I mean.
In the second set, Soulive once again flashed their maturity as a band, but in a different way. They played a set that was so different from the first, but equally satisfying. This set was a non-stop explosion featuring superb versions of originals like "Steppin’" (the remix version with Shuman), "One In Seven," and "Cash’s Dream" as well as covers of "Jesus Children" by Stevie Wonder, "Lenny" by Stevie Ray Vaughn, and "It’s Your Thing" by The Isley Brothers. When the show ended at 2:45am, all the diehards in attendance were drenched with sweat and had wide smiles on their faces, not caring that they had to go to work in the morning.
The atmosphere at this show was great throughout. The club was full, but not packed. The amazing DJ, I think his name was Eli, spun old and new school hip-hop whenever the band wasn't onstage. Seeing Neal Evans, Soulive’s keyboard virtuoso and rising star on the jam band scene, dancing with everyone on the dance floor for a half an hour before the show and again at set break was really cool. Everyone kind of fed off his energy, just as we always do when he's onstage.
Brian Altman in New York City
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