Soulive supported by Maktub | April 16, 2003 | Fox Theater, Boulder, CO

Both Maktub and Soulive were featured in last year's excellent Lodo Music Festival in downtown Denver. That was the first time I saw Maktub and was struck by their captivating stage presence and classic soul sound. So the opportunity to catch a reunion of the west and east coast soul bands on one of their 14 shows together this Spring was a real treat.

Maktub's five-piece ensemble, hailing from Seattle, create a rich soundtrack for lead singer Reggie Watts to deliver versatile vocals that are further enhanced by a creative setup of a modulator box dubbed the "Regg-A-Phone" that he keeps close at hand. Its not that Reggie's vocals need help, he can reach falsetto through baritone with ease, but the electronic tweaking of his vocals adds a sonically interesting layer. It's clear this band cares about sonic quality.

As I listened to Maktub's set, I couldn't help but pick out influences from different eras of music. Guitarist Thaddeus Turner is pretty darn funky and uses a talkbox (think of the Zapp Band) to modulate his voice. Keyboard player Daniel Spils switches between Hammond B3, Fender Rhodes and a Synthesizer to deliver complex layers of sound that again remind one of both 80s-era and more traditional funk. The Maktub jumbo stew of R&B, jazz, soul, and funk end up yielding mostly original songs that are both familiar and unique.

Watt's vocal strengths are a good enough reason to check these guys out. Their set drew heavily from their latest album, Khronos, including a cover of Zeppelin's "No Quarter" which was done justice. Songs like "You Can't Hide" and "Where I Want to Be" have a pop-sensibility to them and probably have found their way onto more than a few college radio station playlists.

Soulive took the stage around 11pm and drummer Alan Evans launched into a monster solo that established the tone for the jazz funk that was about to be unleashed this evening. The impeccably dressed trio from New York delivered an onslaught from start to finish. Soulive are educated jazz musicians who deliver a sound that is pure groove. Each is a superstar musician. In particular, Neal Evans on keyboard and clavinet lays down a heavy bass line with one hand and exquisite harmony with the other that compliments his brother's fantastic drum work. Soulive has returned to its original trio lineup from a quartet that included tenor sax player Sam Kininger, and have scaled down their sound to its roots.

The first tune "Rudy's Way" was followed by the incredible, mind-blowing "Flurries." The band then embarked on "Solid" which drifted into teases of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" and Michael Jackson's "I Can't Help It" medley that somehow worked. The next song "First Street" which is on their latest live album on Blue Note Records had a shining guitar solo from Eric Krasno. At this point, Reggie Watts took the microphone for a silky soul ballad, which I believe was entitled "I'll Be By Your Side" that was very soothing.

I couldn't help comparing the two bands this evening. Soulive don't have Maktub's stunning vocals but their jazz musicianship is beyond compare. Listening to this band with a powerful singer was impressive. As I re-listen to Soulive's last album, Next, I must say I really do find their songs with a competent vocalist to be a complimentary element in their repertoire.

Watt's left the stage for "Bridge to 'Bama" and I noticed that the house was rocking. Evan's bass drum, it seemed, was vibrating my spine. In an interesting segue, they went into the theme song from the Dr. Who TV show (I apologize for not knowing it's official name but I remember it nevertheless). Another new song followed entitled, "El Ron" which was dedicated "to those who love the green and you know what I mean." Seemingly, each song was better than the last.

For the final three songs of their set, Eric switched to a bass guitar and demonstrated impressive skills and added extra funk injection into "Aladdin" and "Uncle Junior." The final song of the set was an very respectable cover of Sly Stone's "If You Want Me to Stay." The encore of the evening, "Do It Again" featured Thaddeus Turner and Reggie Watts joining the trio. This lineup, with Eric on bass, was a mother and it was a treat to hear.

The contrast of Maktub's more commercial-friendly R&B sound and Soulive's jazz heritage twisted with groove make for a satisfying combination. Soulive's ability to groove a room into a frenzy is special thing. More savvy music fans might also appreciate Soulive's jazz vocabulary and harmonics that interplay with their groove. Much like a good book that upon a second or third visit strikes you with subtleties that you may have missed the first time around leaving you even more satisfied.

Words: Haig Assadourian
Photos: Tony Stack
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[Published on: 5/12/03]

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