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Published: 2001/11/21
by Dan Alford

Soulive, The Bowery Ballroom, NYC- 11/15 & 16

Thursday, 11-15-01

I: Steppin', Hurry Up. and Wait, Bridge to Bama,
Kalen, Nene > Cannonball
II: Flurries, Liquid, JCA, Alchemy, Lenny > Turn It
Out

Soulive, minus number four, crept onto the stage, clad
completely in black- a band of smooth criminals; cats
that burgle the groove. Al started slapping the
skins. Soon Eric was tagging a simple rhythm. Neal
finally entered the mix with the bass line and the
trio bounced into a lively Steppin'. Soulive is back
in town and it has been far too long.

The first of three nights at the Bowery offered a
variety of musical textures, including a few classics
and a large selection of new tunes. The crowd was
small- about half capacity for the first set, and half
of that for the second set. In fact I haven't seen
such a small crowd for Soulive since the second night
of the Wetlands residency in February of 2000. That
show cost a mere seven bucks, while the cover for each
night at New York's finest venue was twenty-five
dollars. (And that's nothing compared to the seventy
dollar ticket for the upcoming NYE set!) Those
seven-dollar nights were always the best bargain in
town, but the pricier ticket is still worth it. For
the first time in quite a while, Soulive is doing two
sets nightly, giving them the opportunity to pin down
the new tunes and continue to mold the more familiar
material. The full time addition of Sam Kininger is
shining a new light on many songs, and also brings a
denser sound to the act. During the show I was struck
by the fact that it is the quick drops, split second
funk-downs and instant fills- the moments that are too
transitory to explain- that make a Soulive show such a
cerebrally satisfying experience.

Sam joined for Hurry Up and stayed for the rest of the
show. Alan's drumming was explosive at the outset,
maintaining the energy stirred up during the opener.
Kraz shot off first, a sparrow-like solo that played
about in the high end. Sam was up next, Alan joining
him for a fantastic groove near the end of his solo
that built the song into a wild blowing session.
Bridge to Bama switched gears a bit. During the first
segment Sam was running sleek black leads over the
rest of the band. It was not a long moment but one of
those interactions that are so pleasing. Later in the
song, after a long middle passage, Kraz picked up the
lead before Sam even finished, but rather than running
with it, delivered it to Neal. Again, a short moment,
but thrilling in its detail.

The first new tune of the night was Kalen, written by
Alan for his infant son. It is a bright, bouncy
number that boils over before it's through.
Throughout the show, Neal did most of his bass work
not on the B-3, but on a Roland A-33 perched atop the
organ. On this tune the low end was very pronounced,
sporting a nice grinding texture. Another
anti-gravity solo from Kraz brought the song to its
end, and had Alan smiling and pointing to center
stage.

Nene, penned by Eric, is in the slinky vein of Bama,
but the guitar work was too sharp, almost piercing,
and wasn't really enjoyable. It did, however, give
way to a fine, lightning fast Cannonball to close the
set.

Set II began with Alan calling the remaining groovers
closer to the stage. The opening Flurries was neat,
entitled with a touch of onomatopoeia. Liquid is
another distinctly Neal composition with a goofy
melody akin to Rudy's Way or Shaheed. The highlight
of the second set was Jesus Children. To a large
degree, it is a crowd pleaser, but as it is in a
constant state of flux, is always worth a listen. But
this version really excelled. From the first notes of
the slightly echo-y vox solo, it was apparent
something special was happening. Alan and Neal were
all locked up funky, while Kraz aggressively attacked
his hollow body. Neal then took the only full Roland
solo of the night. He tweaked the wa stick, creating
a nasty vibe that hit on the melody but quickly buried
it in layers of sound. It was reminiscent of a James
Hurt solo, and who should stick his grinning, bobbing
head out from back stage but Hurt himself. His arm
looked to be in a cast, so he probably won't join in
on the upcoming dates.

Alchemy, a second number by Alan, this one written for
his wife Kim, was a very smooth tune. Of all the new
tunes, I liked both of Alan's contributions the best.
This one had a fantastic set up for Neal's low,
prowling solo. To close out the night was the
expected Lenny > Turn It Out. The former tune has
come a long way, developing into a real song that
starts mellow but builds nicely before slipping into
the classic Soulive closer. TIO has also morphed,
particularly in the second section, where Sam soloed
after the tube-scream rather than Kraz. The
start/stop over Neal's sustain was replaced with
multiple series of four hard downbeats. It's a
change, but it accomplishes the same goal: it forces
the crowd to boogie harder than at any other point.
This was a solid show with some real highlights and
nice exposure to material from the upcoming April 2002
album- a good start to a three night run.

Friday 11-16-01

Set I: Cash's Dream*, Uncle Junior*, 1 in 7, Kalen,
Nene, Hurry Up. and Wait
Set II: So Live!, Azucar, Cannonball, Liquid, It's
Your Thing, Lenny* > Turn It Out
E: Tuesday Night Squad

  • w/out Sam K.

Night two at the Bowery began with an excellent set
from The Squad. It's always nice when part of the
extended Soulive family opens a show, but it was
particularly appropriate that Sam Kininger's outfit
had another opportunity to strut its stuff. In the
past I've found The Squad to be a bit heavy for my
tastes- they crash through tunes at full speed,
declaring the one immediately and continually singing
its praises. This set, however, was truly enjoyable.
I began to appreciate the band's dub influences and
twangy, popping rhythm guitar, not to mention Sam's
alto work. Since they were playing on Soulive's
equipment, I was hoping for interlocking sets, but it
didn't happen.

After a short break, Soulive hit the stage, winging
into a great, if somewhat short, Cash's Dream. One of
the best ways to open a show, the tune just swings,
ultimately light on its feet. Neal's first solo of
the night set the standard. He rode out long notes,
fell into a fine pattering segment and slid back into
the stretched sustain, pushing it over the top. Eric
was having problems with his monitor, but he sounded
great in the house mix. He was upset though, and his
solo in the following Uncle Junior was sloppy as a
result. That song did feature an interesting new
super-funk segment just after Kraz's solo, though.

On the intro to 1 in 7 Neal leaned heavily on the
Rolland, creating a sound like high tension wires
plucked by an enormous hand. This version was hot,
and Neal shined through again with a B-3 solo into a
bad ass Roland noodle. The energy poured from the
stage as the quartet slammed back into the tag, Alan
rolling with incredible off center beats. For the
second time in two nights, Alan's Kalen found its way
into the first set. On second listen, I like more
than I thought- and I dug it the first time. Sam
played the clean melody on the intro, while Eric
shredded an upside down solo over Neal's nasty bass at
the close. The following Nene was much better than
Thursday night's. While Eric still played a bit on
the high end, Neal added nice texture by raising the
floodwaters with a ground swell.

The Hurry Up closer synthesized all the energy raised so far into a single powerhouse groove. This one was hoppin' from the first note and did not let up. Neal and Al had their eyes locked across the stage, the sibling link in full effect while Sam toyed with the melody. Eventually Neal and Eric dropped out, leaving Sam and Alan to develop a long, fluid jam- truly a great version, with length and originality that I've not heard before.

The second set picked up where the first left off,
resurrecting the vibe immediately with So Live!
Eric's tone was rich and developed, and Neal's solo
had him playing with his face pressed in the organ.
Azucar has thankfully been popping up more frequently
in setlists. A long time favorite, its subtly smooth
interchanges and sweet swing make it a stirring strut. Neal, once again, was at the forefront, dealing a
complex, utterly passionate solo. It was his set, his
show.

As if to make that point clear, the band tore through
a monstrous, yet curvy version of Liquid that elicited
howls and shouts from the crowd. Unlike Thursday's
show, this one was sold out and packed wall to wall
with people for the first set. Thankfully the crowd
had thinned some for the second set, which didn't get
underway until 1 AM, and continued to thin until the
end of the encore at about 2:30. For a little
in-crowd entertainment, during a languorous It's Your
Thing, a strange dance collective began flailing
about, stomping and slapping the floor like a group of
casualties from the pharmaceutical industry. Soulive
admittedly draws a crowd that thinks itself a bit hip,
so it was particularly entertaining to see some full
blown freak dancing.

The closing Lenny > Turn It Out had some fine,
heartfelt playing from Kraz meshed with church organ
from Neal on the early part, although Turn It Out was
not as energetic as Thursday's. What really shined
however, was the encore, Neal's composition, Tuesday
Night Squad- obviously an homage to The Squad. This
one was a raging beast, an angry 600-pound gorilla
unleashed. It ran on and on, probably close to 20
minutes of pulse-pounding excitement. Ladies and
gentlemen, we have a new closer! At the end the
quartet left the stage one at a time, first Alan, then
after a minute or two Kraz. Sam and Neal funked out
together for a bit, Neal driving the Rolland. He took
a bow and left Sam alone to bounce form line to line
before he too walked off stage, playing all the while
as he disappeared into the darkness.

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