SOULIVE | 11/3 & 11/4 | NEW YORK CITY

Historians and journalists alike have recorded many instances in the preceeding flow of the human experience where whatever forces we don't understand in the universe seemingly converged in the perfect recipe to produce something that stands out among it's counterparts. Somehow, Eric Krasno found Neal & Alan Evans and the resultant sound of Soulive (a.k.a. Malone's new favorite band) was born which has developed into nothing less than music utopia. I've come to believe that each artist who straps into the moment, using their heart and courage to bring us live music, is deserving of endless honor but taste, afterall, is subjective and mine leans toward bands that use strong guitar, killer drums, and wildly bouncing keys which is exactly what Soulive's lineup brings to the stage every night. Not only is each one of these guys an amazing artist in his own right, contributing a lot of new material that came out this weekend, but they selflessly share the spotlight with each other and their guest musicians which also reflects in how easy going and excellently pleasing they are to chill with. And their former stable, Velour Music, is instilled with the same vibe, putting other acts like Topaz, ulu, Baba, & Shuman out there for us (by the by, Velour could use some help updating their web site so, if anyone reading this has such skills and is willing to donate some time to a fine group, please contact Sean or Jeff). Suffice it to say that Soulive's rock the lodge experiment at Berkfest this year left me scouring every record shop in Manhattan before I realized that the web was my best source to get their re-released debut, Turn It Out, which has since hop skotched from my apartment to office and back on an almost daily basis.

If you go a little lower on the page, you'll see Vince's review of Friday opener Robert Walter's 20th Congress' Saturday show. It says so much about how those guys bring their own relaxed, tight groove out, allowing you to strap yourself in on the percussion duo & ride the fiery sax while Robert expertly massages the organ. After RW2C jammed out for the long car ride to Chi-town, Soulive came on at The Bowery Ballroom, leaving behind their customary coats in the looser form of pants, shirt, and tie which stood out to those who bore much love for the guys from previous shows, leading us to believe that something wiry that way was coming. Our suspicion was confirmed as they began and led into their second offering of the night, Steppin', one of the few Turn It Out songs played on Friday. If everyone could hit the drums like Al, all gym memberships & violence between humans would be a thing of the past, an idea firmly set the first time I checked them out as he ripped right through his snare. It's all good, though, in fact it's fantastically orgasmic for the ear as his strong presence is matched by the utter joy you can see on both Eric & Neal's faces who communicate extensively, face to face, when not totally immersed in what they're doing at their own positions while they listen to and inspire one another. A bit into their two hour set, saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-bart joined the trio for Cannonball, and Bridge to Bama, breaking both pieces apart, flying around my imagination and putting it all back together with the care of someone re-arranging their priceless glass menagerie. Nothing's unimportant yet nothing's so severe they can't have a great time with it.

Al also acts as band leader, getting up from the kit to talk to the crowd, share the names of the tunes played and, after the two sax pieces, ask for suggestions from the crowd for non-Soulive material. Stevie Wonder was the common request so they kicked out Jesus Children with a little extra pounding on the intro from the brothers before Eric came in much more gnawlingly raw than the album version with the same testament to Stevie's classic groove. One of the things that amazes me is how Al can fill the air with so many rapid beats yet retain the control and focus necessary to hold back half a beat here and there and make the hair on the back of your neck salute. Moving into a guitar solo and then a manic sprint-jam (as they did on Saturday during a lighter version) they exhibited the glee of parochial school kids running their pent up energy through the dirt, drinking their juice directly from the fruit as opposed to the watered down carton. Equally pure was their Friday encore of So Live!, "the song that started it all." Played with the strength it takes to lift a truck a few dozen times, Soulive raged and then slid to an almost freeze at the low part, showing they don't need to put a hurtin' on those instruments just to make great sound. But the hurtin' is as yummy as it gets!!!

Night two began with KUDU, another group of musicians who graduated from the Berklee College of Music along with Eric and The Squad. With two sets of keys (Peter Stoltzman & Nick Casper, also sampling) giving out a gliding atmosphere, Sylvia Gordon helped create a mellow spell, when not contributing on bass, somewhere between Lauryn Hill and the great female vocalists of Jazz's heyday. Behind them, the horn section of Avi Shai (trumpet), Andre Atkins (trombone, formerly of Groove Collective) & Jacques Schwarz-bart (not a KUDU regular) worked with Deantoni Parks' drumming to mix some hot jazz work and a groove that set us up perfectly for another night of Soulive who opened it right off with Uncle Junior, a song that's destined to get you bouncing off the walls when you hear it live or recorded. While Neal's hands dance all over the Hammond and Eric can do the same on the frets, he can also generate some deep, back arching thrusts when sticking with a handful of chords. There was a nice, smooth interlude on the back end of the opener before they jumped back off the flying tire into a dense pool of crisp, nastily hard and masterfully stimulating percussion lines.

Continuing on with an Isley Brother's tune, they got to show their versatile knowledge of what came before them, moving then into a new song writting by Neal called Shaheedy. They shift gears like a Porsche with Jackson Pollack designs on the dash and carpets, hugging each curve and lavishing all onlookers with a graceful vision of beauty. Soulive can get it going on one line of groove but, unlike a lot of other bands I've seen, they pop back out and find another one again and again, linked by the open communication that you'll witness when your eyes aren't closed to absorb as much of their creations as you can. In the end, the title track from their first album was one of the hottest, zippinnest encores I have to add to my special collection of live music memories. With Neal leaning on it for what seemed to me hours (although he felt it lasted about a minute), Eric's dextrous play was unabated and Al brought us home as intensely as he did throughout the two night stand. I think the line that sums it up best is in the lighter notes of Turn It Out, written by Jeff Krasno, "They're accessible. They move your body, then your mind. They give you an easy handshake before they twist your arm up." I've never claimed to be a music expert (cuz I'm not) but please take it from me that these guys will amaze you and send you off happily into the night whenever you're with them.

Soulive will be playing Thursday night at the Ram's Head in Annapolis, before going on a nine date tour with Jazz Mandolin Project and Charlie Hunter that begins Friday at the Beehive Theatre in Pittsburgh. But, New Yorkers, don't worry if you missed this last weekend because the boys will be back for what will undoubtably be one of the sickest New Year's gigs around, playing for two nights with Maceo Parker at Irving Plaza which, coincidentally, will also be rocking this Friday & Saturday when The Disco Bicuits come to town. Robert Walter's 20th Congress will be playing a bunch of dates in Colorado & California through Thanksgiving so, if you can be there, it's definitely a good idea. Next month, there's due to be a killer bill at the Mercury Lounge when Topaz, ulu, The Squad and KUDU come back on 12/21. Oh, and don't forget to work off that Turkey Day tonnage at The Lion's Den on 11/25 when Rebus will be opening for Fat Mama. Until then, I wish you all the unbelievable amounts of joy I experienced this weekend.

Howie Greenberg
JamBase NYC Correspondent
Go See Lots of Live Music!!!!!

[Published on: 11/6/00]

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