Dressed to the nines in suits and ties, jazz fusionists Soulive brought a crazy, soul-funk dance party to Chicago’s Double Door. The New York trio unleashed a fiery synthesis of genre bending grooves to a sold-out house with the help of multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Nigel Hall.
Soulive is amongst the best live bands currently on tour; if they stop by your town do yourself a favor and catch their spirit. Their music brings forth colorful life that keeps listeners on their toes, mobilizing the need to shimmy and shake. Sure their studio albums are great; however it is live onstage where they truly shine. Soulive infects their audiences with a kinetic force that stimulates fans’ bodies and souls in a boogie of funk and intellect of jazz.
Brothers Alan (drums) and Neal (Hammond B3 organ, bass keys, clavinet) Evans are the flesh and blood of the band, providing the music with a rhythmic pulse of life. Guitarist Eric Krasno sang through his fingertips, embalming his counterparts’ rhythms in wholesome golden tones. Together the musicians performed enticing, feel good music; it was not long before they had a sonic grasp on my conscious and charmed my feet to dance.
About 45 minutes into their set the trio transitioned from original jams to Beatles renditions. The change of pace supported the band’s 2010 studio release Rubber Soulive (Royal Family Records). The album reworked 11 Beatles gems into stripped down, basic jazz inspired instrumentals. Soulive did not replicate the Beatles’ studio experimentations with backwards tracking, variations of speed, sound effects, full orchestras, etc. They kept their interpretation to three parts creating tight tracks with clean, crisp edges.
Soulive’s live Beatles jam brought four-five of their renditions to stage. I admit initially I failed to remember the theme of Soulive’s latest album, and was giddy when they busted into “Come Together”. Surrounding fans shared my excitement and howled in delight. Naturally the band kept things instrumental with each musician emulating rhythmic grooves with smooth operating attitudes. Amidst Alan’s fury of high hat and cymbal clashes Krasno channeled lead melodies through his guitar, bending each phrase before progressing towards the next. Neal alternated between middle ground and lead on the Hammond, illuminating his direction with each chord. One moment Neal would echo and bubble below Krasno’s guitar mantra, only to lead the pack over the bridge, through some improvisations towards the following verse.
As “Come Together” reached scorching temperatures, both Krasno and Neal strayed off the melodic path and rotated between soloing and mirroring each other’s improvisations.
My personal favorite tribute of the evening was another cut off Abbey Road, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”. Soulive added about 10 pounds of raw sensuality to the song, keeping licks crisp and corners sharp. Stylistically the trio rang suave and confident upholding a confrontational air to their playing. While the song played on Neal bled chords together as Krasno projected his soul from his guitar in uncompromising anguish. During “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”. Krasno scoured his tone, adding an attitude and edge rarely heard in his playing on other tunes.
During each Beatles song, intoxicated admirers attempted to sing along as a mass, frequently botching and mumbling lyrics as the songs carried on. No matter what, without hesitation, the entire room managed to accurately hit each chorus loud and proud, only to get lost in a rage.
After dabbling with the Beatles, Soulive returned to their original catalogue of stellar compositions. They kept a majority of the set instrumental, sporadically summoning Nigel Hall to the stage. Hall’s presence and voice were all one would desire from an R&B singer. His embrace touched everything with the flair of James Brown, the shrieks of Sly Stone and the finesse of Taj Mahal. When absent from the mic Hall tag teamed with Neal on bass, keys and organ contributing to a whirlwind of motion. At one point Alan’s drumming roped my thoughts and lead my body astray in motion; I was lost in the music until Neal and Hall set in, bringing me back to my surroundings by shooting chills through my body.
That evening as I exited the steamy Double Door and hit the frigid streets of Chicago, I reflected on the music I was so fortunate to hear. I realized that Soulive is the epitome of what live music is about. To me live music has to do with sharing a brew of colorful energy and vibration that ultimately leads to good feelings and vital emotions; it is about getting lost in sound and navigating through motion. I have to say that Soulive gave me all of that and possibly more.