I have often pondered as to which band will be the next big thing but my feeling is that the game is entirely different than it was. It is no longer an unreasonable thing to consider an extensive road trip for the sake of musical enjoyment and community. While the pop culture is bandied about everywhere I look, that exposure performs the same function as pop music; an easily accessible way to build the foundation toward the desire for more. From the artists to the audiences, our scene is filled with those looking to take it inward and out, harmonizing to that frequency that bends the seams without
turning self destructive. And that positive energy can produce the most sublime and interestingly new results. Just as Phish forever changed the paradigm of live rock bands, Soulive has created a new way of understanding the organ based trio.
The more I experience live shows, the larger my feelings of family grow so it was nice to visit the brothers of Rebus down in Virginia, a solid group whose blend of intelligent and cleverly fun tunes mirrors how much I enjoy their company. It didn't take much more than a mention to set it all in motion as simply as Soulive does with their intro phrases so off we
were to Towson University where the best advice I can give is to avail yourselves of the lockers on the ground floor before proceeding to the security check. Once inside, though, it's all good because the music in my head becomes real.
Soulive and Project Logic are doing the switch off thing so the Project was on when we arrived. They mix a bit of everything into their lexicon from different areas of our scene's expanding context. Their performance was a mix of KDTU type raging funk, reggae, and Medeski, Martin & Wood's next generation nature (including a cover of Bubblehouse). Muscular samples were feeding the live musicians with a bit of electrotrance, paying tribute to the latest entry in the jam stew. I was totally into it, getting my body ready to be heaved upon the bonfire of the other three guys on the bill. And that's not to say that the Project is in any way bad. In fact, their show is solid end to end but I couldn't get beyond my own sense
of want to focus on it.
The crowd was young and energetic, already glistening from the work they did earlier when those finely dressed men took their seats in a stage area at the same height as the audience. And then it begins. The guys used an extended set up before that familiar phrase that also begins Soulive's first album, Turn It Out. Alan Evans' strength on drums mightily and efficiently lifts the to a wide enough range for Neal to flower into the harmonics of a more modern, moment driven stretch. Neal pulls double duty on the Hammond B-3, playing bass with the left, dancing with the right, leaping out of his seat in reveries. The intensity turned up a huge notch with Neal's nod to A Tribe Called Quest's Ali Shaheed Muhammad.
The brothers read each other very well from across the stage to the point that it's noticeable how Neal's animation changes by his brother's pumping. Mixed well into the family, Eric shoots off on the combustible vibe, elegantly navigating the bass lines and beats. After one of Alan's short visits with the audience, Soulive moved right into Cannonball as if they'd been playing it every day on break. It's a more dextrous groove on all three parts so keeping up with them isn't easy unless you completely give yourself to them. Each one of them has their own infectuous style but their listening skills and natural chemistry bring it all together. They're rippers without a doubt but their talents allow themselves to resolve any frayed edges quickly.
The string through the three nights came next. In Right On, Eric added one note to the set up that tightens the swing but they left it at the first section with a coordinated, start/stop transition. This lead into Eric, alone, working out the beginning of James Brown's Sex Machine Pt. 1 to a sea of soul clapping encouraged by Alan. Joined by Project Logic's K.C. Benjamin on sax, they opened up this experiment more each night I saw them. It was a nice glimpse into Soulive's interest in presentation. Their translation was steady and led the audience through the trio's more subtle talents which get inside as easily as their burners. That night, and the second at Charlotteville's Starr Hill Theater, the soul classic wound into another cover, It's Your Thing. The segue was perfect from the perspective of tone but this was only one of the many turning points in their shows. During the rendition on my last night, DJ Logic also joined the crew on stage and It's Your Thing was replaced by the Steppin' Remix that you can find on vinyl at any Soulive show. It's a testament to the marriage of soul groove, hard driven beats and hip hop that they use to stay clean of the funky mud. Not that they didn't get down (and how) but even the improvs seem to have the thought structure of a well planned out game of chess which accounts for any variation.
Reverse a couple of days, the back half of Soulive's set "cooled it down" with Eric picking my heartstrings through Evidence. Cool? Relatively speaking, yes, but don't expect to take it slow. Following that, Alan put out a light dance beat and Neal rolled the bass under Eric's echoes during Bridge to Bama (one of Eric's contributions to the new album). And then I heard that familiar lead in to Turn It Out. It's airiness can lull
you for a few minutes but then it's all about the full on strut that tops off any one of their gigs nicely.
On Saturday, we wound our way around Charlottesville about one or six times to find the Star Hill which is placed quietly in the middle of
a very easy street. The venue's upstairs and downstairs is a bar and
restaurant that, later that night, filled up as any good college town bar should on the weekend. Soulive was up first and our early arrival gave me a chance to see Neal tuning up the organ which was a treat considering I could see his hands in the empty room. They started again with Steppin' which led into the automatic dash that is So Live! I wonder if I'm dreaming when they play that song because the groove is unreal. Then it happened again. During the New Year's shows at the Irving Plaza, I watched Alan go through at least five pairs of sticks in a set so you know he's hitting it. Saturday night, for the second time I've seen, he ripped right through his snare and all I can say is DAMN BROTHER!!!!! While Eric and Neal played a bit of Joe Sample, a quick borrow took place and soon enough they were off into Doin' Something.
The last time I saw Soulive, they had a sax with them on that joint so I thought maybe they'd bring out K.C. Benjamin a little early. Instead, they flashed some ornate cards of their own in front of me, leaving me to consider the flavor in my ear until I realized I had some catching up to do in the progression of the music. Doin'
Something represents the band's washed, pressed and janglin' down the boulevard, setting off car alarms wherever they go style. I was glad for Neal that the ceiling wasn't low during this one because he was up out of that chair on every beat. Alan's hands were so quick and sure I'd bet he could hide a whole roll of quarters behind your ear without you knowing it. Saturday ended with crowd favorite, Uncle Junior as Eric's mastery will inspire you to dive into your own talents, no matter what they are, to bring that much more beauty into the world.
The last night of our jaunt through the Mid-Atlantic was the long one so we stopped over in Richmond where I made some peaceful new friends and their little dog too. It's a beautiful thing when someone you never met before opens their home to you but the greatest part about it is that the Wahlbergs are not alone in their heartfelt hospitality. A lazy day and pop through the state of Virginia later, we were at Nofolk's NorVa Theater. Knowing it might not be until April when I see Soulive again, I completely got into everything they did. When I walked in for the third night of my weekend run, I felt how at home Soulive's sound is for a room like that. With a 1,000+ capacity and wrapped second tier, the intimacy of jazz heritage combines with the more open possibilities of space. It's a wide tableau of a playground and Soulive overwhelmingly romped me through it.
Opening with So Live! they immediately filled the room with everything they had. Alan was huge for me that night, even throwing in a well constructed, deeply concentrated solo toward the end of the show. Two treats from their first album, Tabasco and Rudy's Way following the Steppin' Remix, came out as a nice surprise. Both are shorter tunes that lay off a bit into their nastily cool soul groove type play. Soulive inspires the intensity of uncontrollable hoots and hollars from every audience that I've been in at Galactic, KDTU and Phish shows when they throw it on the table like an unselfconscious gambler. Pure and utter exhiliration on both sides of the equipment ensues which is where I was when the last couple of songs had me jigging like a marionette. The show wasn't nearly as packed as the night before but whatever air was left unfilled by bodies was occupied by Neal leaning on that organ, Alan's explosive efficiency and Eric's wide open vocabulary. As the room emptied, my eyes welled up a bit but, no worries, because there'll be a bunch of opportunities to experience what they got from April through Jazzfest. Did someone say NOLA?
Soulive and Project Logic will be headed up to New England this weekend with a gig at UMass Amherst on Friday and then two dates in Maine. After a six gig run in Japan that takes them through the beginning of March, Soulive will take a break and then be back out on the road, visiting NYC at Irving Plaza on the 19th & 20th. Soulive's new album, Doin' Something, is due out on March 13. As for the guys of Rebus, they'll be at Orbits in Fredricksburg, VA this Saturday and up here in the big
baddy at the Wetlands on the 17th. It's all coming together
very nicely out there so jump on in because there's a warm net of great bands and a phamily network that will embrace you just for showing up.
JamBase Biscuits and Gravy Correspondent
Go See Live Music!