It was somehow fitting that the weekend immediately following the first anniversary of September 11th would feature an incredible line-up of live music around New York City. Each New Yorker, and each American, has to deal with 9/11 in their own way, but this late summer weekend offered the opportunity to see some great bands and to support some excellent local music venues. Sound Tribe Sector 9, John Scofield, The Roots, and Antibalas were among the bands that had NYC shows over the weekend.
My weekend began at Mercury Lounge downtown on Houston Street for Soulive. The Mercury Lounge is a small club that boasts one of the better sound systems in the city and so it was here that Soulive chose to do a three-night residence to begin recording a live album that should be released next spring on Blue Note Records.
Anticipation for these shows and the whole upcoming tour ran high among Soulive fans as the band has gone back to their roots as a trio. The fourth member of Soulive, sax man Sam Kininger, will be working on other projects this fall and won’t be touring with the band. Soulive announced that they would be playing plenty of new material suitable for the trio line-up of Eric Krasno (guitar), Neal Evans (keyboards) and Alan Evans (drums).
Thursday night’s show was an interesting blend of covers, new songs, and a few Soulive classics. Beyond the fact that they’re a trio again, the other major change in Soulive’s sound was Neal’s new clavinet. The show began with the funky “Fire Eater” by Rusty Bryant and “All Day Sucker” by Stevie Wonder with the old school “Right On” by Joe ‘Boogaloo’ Jones and “Power Of Soul” by Jimi Hendrix appearing later on. “Power Of Soul” raged with Krasno shredding on the guitar underneath Alan’s vocals. New songs included an untitled Neal song and an untitled Krasno composition as well as “Elron” and “For Granted,” which Alan described as Soulive’s tribute to Grant Green. Krasno’s tune was particularly impressive tonight with Neal delving into an intricate keyboard jam. The band also used the small club setting to bring back the very rare “Solid” and the somewhat rare “Shaheed,” both from the Doin’ Something record. The show closed with the soaring originals “Turn It Out” and “Uncle Junior,” sending the crowd out into the city night sweaty and smiling.
I was back at The Mercury Lounge on Friday night for night two of Soulive. The Friday night crowd was rowdier right away and the band fed off their energy, and vice versa. The fiery “Cash’s Dream” and “So Live!” made their first appearances of the run. Sam Kininger was in the house and joined the band for “Hurry Up... And Wait” and “It’s Your Thing," by The Isley Brothers, to close the first set, as well as an abbreviated “Tuesday Night’s Squad” from 2002’s Next in the encore. Any thoughts of bad blood between the original members of Soulive and Sam were immediately erased by the looks of pure joy on all four of their faces when Sam was playing with them. Soulive played the same four new songs from the night before, with the new one from Neal standing out this time around, as the keyboard master went wild on the clavinet. Vocalist N’Dambi, who toured with Soulive on their 21st Century Soul Revue tour this past spring, lent her vocals to an R-rated, grooving “Romantic.”
Saturday night I headed a few blocks further downtown to Bowery Ballroom on the Lower East Side to check out RAQ as they opened for Strangefolk. RAQ (formerly Shadraq) has been making a name for itself in the Northeast for the last year or so and made an impressive showing at festivals such as High Sierra and BerkFest this past summer. The Bowery show marked RAQ’s first gig in a larger NYC venue after playing places like The Knitting Factory, The Mercury Lounge (where they played a sold out show in the early hours of 1/1/02) and Lion's Den.
RAQ is a four-piece band with Chris Michetti on guitar, Jay Burwick on bass, Greg Stukey on drums, and Marc Scortino on keyboards.In many ways, RAQ is a throw back to the mid-‘90s jam band scene since so many bands these days are doing the electronic/ groove thing. Their aggressive, psychedelic, improvisational, electric guitar-driven sound draws the inevitable comparisons to Phish. After all, they are from Burlington and Michetti looks and acts somewhat like Trey Anastasio when he’s onstage. But RAQ is a young band out there playing lots of shows around the country, developing their own style and attitude. Just when you think you have RAQ all figured out, they drop into a jam that sounds just as modern and fresh as any band on the scene today.
RAQ’s 90-minute opening set did not disappoint and hearing them on a real sound system made a big difference in the way their vocal harmonies and multi-layered jams sounded. Their set began earlier than expected and so there were very few people in attendance as they ripped through a “B-Movie” opener. But the crowd grew steadily and by the time they closed with a rocking and loud “Brother From Another Mother,” they seemed to have made more than a few new fans. Other highlights from the set were “Moserini” and “Late Night”.
If you’re interested in RAQ, definitely check out raqmusic.com. They have their own FTP server with plenty of full shows available for download in SHN format.
The live music scene in NYC remains alive and well as the city attempts to move forward.
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