Review & Photos | Soulive & Chris Robinson | Brooklyn

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Words by: Chad Berndtson
Images by: Adam McCullough

Soulive’s Freak & Soul Revue featuring Chris Robinson :: 3.17.15 :: Brooklyn Bowl :: Brooklyn, NY

Soulive and Chris Robinson really mesh; such fun was their combined set at Bear Creek 2014 that you were certain there would be more: some time, some spot. So why not Bowlive, this year claiming the mantle of New York’s most reliable jam scene residency now that Peakin’ at the Beacon is a thing of the past, and that in six short years has become a cherished tradition?

In many ways Bowlive now resembles what the Allmans spent all those years perfecting: a core formula, focused on the magic of a core band stretching out and showing all sides of itself in an extended-stand residency format, with just enough familiarity and a handful of wild cards to both attract the uninitiated and preserve a hardcore fanbase that the band banks will make several visits over the course of a run.

It’s easy, and sometimes fashionable, to think Bowlive’s getting stale – we’ve seen the depth of the trickbag over six years, across more than 50 shows and a galaxy of special guests. But then you return to the cavernous Bowl and get Soulive religion again, especially on a Tuesday night like this one where it’s St. Patrick’s Day but might as well be another Tuesday, and everyone is a little work-fried already, and should-we-cut-out-a-bit-early-because-I’ve-got-that-early-meeting and hell with it – time to dance!

You wanted to hear about Chris Robinson – awesome as a sit-in guest in this context, even more magnanimous and locked-in than he was during the Bear Creek set. But it was over an hour of typically scorching Soulive before we even got to the Chris Robinson show: an hour that saw the core trio work a three-quarters-capacity crowd over with furious fusion, groovy funk, plenty of horns and the now-standard Beatles inclusion (“Something”). There was even an unannounced guest, Karl Denson cohort DJ Williams on guitar, who more than willingly jumped into the fire with Eric Krasno for “Uncle Jr.,” which Alan Evans accurately described as an “old school joint” – only to see both of them outdone during a peak-rage jam by Ryan Zoidis and his nasty sax.

The show was all one, long set, but at the end of that first hour came “Tuesday Night Squad” and long, probing excursions from Krasno, Neal Evans on gnarly keys and Eric Bloom on spicy trumpet –one of those endlessly rewarding Soulive jams that touches all of the band’s hallmarks. As an early peak, it logically divided the night’s more “traditional” Soulive proceedings and the adventure to follow.

As the hour ticked past 11:00 p.m., on came the expected Robinson appearance, along with backup singers Maya Sharpe and Sasha Ortiz as well as the addition of Cheme Gastelum to the horn section. Quickly the full ensemble made good on the promise of a “Freak & Soul Revue,” finding that exact spot where the vintage funk, soul-jazz and Grateful Dead worlds collide –and then hammering at the sweet spot until just past midnight.

Robinson, looking fresh and smiling wide, was more than game. He sang Otis Redding’s “Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)” to start, then picked up a guitar himself and joined the funky fray. “Space Captain,” “Get Out My Life Woman” and “Sugaree” would all make appearances before a crackling “Gimme Shelter” set-closer, but the best exposition of the Soulive-meets-Robinson mojo was another Grateful Dead tune, “West L.A. Fadeaway,” which sounded like the Dead re-imagined through the Meters and drenched with angst and soul. (Talk about a Dead canon song that a horn section underpinning can take to the next level.)

Regrouping for an encore – and adding Terrapin Crossroads and Phil Lesh regular Ross James on yet another guitar – the ensemble fired up “Lovelight,” one more chance for what was left of the crowd to get those early-week blues out, worked over and disposed of. Job done.

[“Gimme Shelter” captured by Marc Millman]

Not counting a blistering 45 minutes of Soule Monde to open the night, the show was all of two hours. But it felt far more epic than its running time, what with all the terrain explored. For most bands, trying to cover so much ground leaves the listener with that patchy feeling – uneven pace, no clear arc, somewhat unsteady. But for Soulive, that’s typical swagger, pumped up and at peak badass around this time every year.

Keep ‘em coming, guys. The work day can wait.

Setlist

Set: So Live, Bubble, Something, Reverb (1), Uncle Jr. (1, 2), Tuesday Night Squad (1) > Bewildered (1) > Tuesday Night Squad (1), Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song) (1, 3, 4, 5), Quitters Never Win (1, 3, 4, 5), West LA Fadeaway (1, 3, 4, 5), Space Captain (1, 3, 4, 5), Get Out My Life Woman (1, 3, 4, 5), Sugaree (3, 4), Gimme Shelter (3, 4)

Encore: Lovelight (1, 3, 4, 5, 6)

(1) w/Ryan Zoidis, sax and Eric Bloom, trumpet (The Shady Horns)
(2) w/DJ Williams, guitar
(3) w/Chris Robinson, guitar and vocals
(4) w/Maya Sharpe and Sasha Ortiz, vocals
(5) w/Cheme Gastelum, sax
(6) w/Ross James, guitar

Soulive’s Bowlive run continues on Wednesday night for more with Robinson and other guests including members of Lettuce. Nugs.tv has just announced webcasts of Thursday, Friday and Saturday’s Bowlive shows.

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