Words by: Greg Gargiulo | Images by: Arthur Shim
Soulive & Lettuce :: 09.05.08 :: Highline Ballroom :: New York, NY
Live music, in all its glorious forms, can prompt a slew of reactions, at times consuming the listener and forcing them to succumb to the artist's intentions, willingly or not. When it comes to Soulive and their sibling-band Lettuce, who shared the bill at the Royal Family Ball, the inclination brought about by their amped-up rhythms and pleasantly blaring spirit was to celebrate and celebrate hard. What, exactly, the celebration was intended for depended on whom you asked but the message was loud and obvious to those able to make it inside. With no shortage of guest appearances and onstage collaborations - plus a dance floor jam-packed with bodies vying to claim boogying ground - the gala shot infectious sparks for most of its four-hour-plus duration, creating a natural exuberance for every reason imaginable.
Over their sixteen years of on-and-off existence, Lettuce has come quite the distance from their humble origins. Back in their formative years when they where still in the process of establishing themselves, their M.O. was to simply show up at venues, instruments in hand, and ask, "Will you let us play?" It'd be fair to say the tables have taken a major turn, as fans outside the Highline Ballroom, many with purchased tickets, were rejected admittance, despite demanding, "Let us in!" The minor glitch was a result of the prior night's show being canceled, which caused tickets from both nights to be honored and a crowd of potentially double the capacity. After the situation was eventually rectified - for the most part - chagrined outsiders were quickly revived once they got a taste of the tight-quartered Funkytown they had only been able smell from the exterior.
Lettuce had been getting the crowd down, getting down themselves, all the while, with their spiced-up soul and jazz melodies from the instant they first appeared on the stage. The seven-piece outfit, which consists of two-thirds of Soulive in Eric Krasno's guitar and Neal Evans' keyboards, got gears turning right away and never gave the momentum a chance to slow. Slinging off most of Rage!, their tribute to classic funk released earlier this year, Lettuce brought an unyielding and relentless energy evidenced not only by the music emitting from the speakers but the enthusiasm of its members for each subsequent number. Whether it was the duel saxophones of Ryan Zoidis and Sam Kininger bopping along to the uplifting funkifier "Blast Off," Eric Coomes emphasizing every last lick from his bass for the entirety of his stay or Neal Evans caressing the keys with a smooth yet powerful maneuverability, not a single musician veered off for a second from the collective tightness.
As if they needed an additional boost, Lettuce was accompanied by a handful of friends and associates. Nikki G came out to provide percussion assistance for a solid portion of their set, but the inclusion of Nigel Hall on vocals gave the already excited crowd another shot of adrenaline. Hall commanded vocals for a few tracks, bringing with him a stage presence uncannily reminiscent of perhaps THE most energized stage performer ever, funk's progenitor and original spokesman, Mr. James Brown. The parallels between the two emerged partially during "Need To Understand," but not entirely until Curtis Mayfield's "Move On Up," which found Hall displaying his vast vocal range, drawing in the crowd to offer their own vocal contributions and moving about wildly as though each note dictated his every next move. Other guests throughout the night for both bands included Bobby Deitch, joining his son and Lettuce drummer Adam, to pound on timbales for a percussion solo, and Cochemea "Cheme" Gastelum rounding out the low side on his baritone sax.
|Eric Krasno :: 09.05 :: NYC|
So as not to allow for a down or dull moment in the night's festivities, New York City local DJ Gravy spun a whole smorgasbord of danceable interludes before and after Lettuce. Though the most distinguishable characteristic between Gravy and a mere mix tape of vintage hip-hop and reggae was the intermittent request for everyone to scream, Gravy did manage to preserve a portion of the lingering energy as the crowd unexpectedly thinned out for Soulive.
Soulive's set, which didn't get underway until well after midnight, permitted a much freer, looser and less restricted assortment than the preceding vegetative assembly. Resorting back to the three founding members after brief forays with permanent vocalists, brass and woodwinds, Neal, Eric and drummer Alan Evans (Neal's brother) attacked from all angles. With some straight-up pieces of soul led by the vivacious undercurrents of Neal's Hammond B3 organ, bluesy ballads that gave Krasno ample space to wail some drawn-out solos and a continuous surge of sound - though of a different grain than Lettuce - they busted open the seams, an entity that had long been growing steadily stronger.
|Soulive with Zoidis & Kininger :: 09.05 :: NYC|
"One In Seven," a veritable beast in their rotation, gives each musician a chance to take over and direct a course based on their own intuition for the others to further support, returning to the central progression after each leg like a lap marker. If any one player felt slighted or unable to experiment heretofore, they took advantage now, with Neal stripping it down to its most basic elements, then breathing life into the being one measure at a time. Though Soulive came onto the stage as their exclusive core trio, that's not to say their time spent was without other "family" members. Saxophonists Zoidis and Kininger came out for "Got Soul," giving a break down solo before the song's upswing charged by Neal's vocals, and remained out there for the rest of the show. Nigel Hall re-appeared for "Jesus Children of America," busting out vocals with force before Alan took over, adding his soulful "Uhhs" and "Yeeaahhs" for good measure.
Doing justice to the title of the occasion, the entire ensemble returned for the encore and a final opportunity for everyone to get down. For a last lick, the joyous, extended family of brothers and sisters, drawn from both blood and music, came together in an invigorated, expressive embrace. For those still there, who at that point were indulging in the abundance of open space, it gave us reason enough to exalt, be glad and dance, due to the simple fact that we could.
See more pics from this show here.
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