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Reviews > Shows

Published: 2003/05/02
by Chad Berndtson

Soulive, The Roxy, Boston, MA- 4/27

Soulive is a band of layered experiments, and also one of constant
innovation. No matter what state of evolution you find this band in at any
given performance or on any given album, credit must be given to a group of
musicians that have proved, unlike many of their jam-scene counterparts,
that their collective efforts have no glass ceiling—-their creativity is
boundless.

Soulive, it seems, can wear many different hats, and have done so on many
occasions since they first broke widely onto the scene somewhere around
1999. Some nights, they’re a funk-fusion crew, others, they’re so jazzy and
technique-heavy that you could swear that’s Scofield and one of his ten
thousand crews up on stage. There are constant shades of the soul music that
defines their namesake, but by and large Soulive keeps in interesting by
making sure they try a little bit of everything without straying too far
from their jazz fusion foundation. Their stretch residency in New York back
in February, while self-indulgent to some and borrowing from too many
influences to others, was really an acknowledgment of what their diehard
fans already know: this is one of the most innovative bands on the planet.
And the true genius of Soulive is that it’s hard to discover how innovative
and constantly evolving they are until you’ve seen them in multiple
different settings and seen them run their full gamut of influences and
musical styles.

My original inclination was to call Sunday’s show at the Roxy sub-par
Soulive: it was too short (just inside of an hour and a half), the two
opening bands (Maktub and John Brown’s Body) were a bit more explosive than
the headliner; and Neal Evans, one of the most mindblowing ivory ticklers
working today, was virtually AWOL, taking minimum solo time and never
getting anywhere close to the peaks I’ve seen him tackle before.

But the beauty of Soulive is that the next time I see them I will find
something else to like and appreciate. They, unlike so many other musicians
of their ilk, push the envelope so often and keep trying to outdo themselves
so much that they know they will instantly have the forgiveness of their
fans if some elements are a bit out of whack on any given occasion. And
when a par or sub-par Soulive show is still a head taller than most bands on
their best nights, I have no choice but to go into the highs (and there were
many) from Sunday night:

-Eric Krasno was on fire. Absolutely on fire. Maybe he sensed that Neal was
in a more reserved mode and took his own playing up a notch, but in all of
the six times I’ve seen this outfit, Kraz has never been more exploratory in
his soloing. And drummer Alan Evans doesn’t ever seem to have an off
night—for me, he’s the unsung hero of Soulive, for all of the grooves that
these guys elevate grow out of the foundation he lays. And just to not steal
any more of Neal’s thunder (with the amount of miles these guys have logged
in the last two years, its no wonder they’re winding down), the keyboardin’
Evans brother kept the other two focused and grounded, even when Kraz
especially was itching to sail away.

-A short, but well-structured setlist, including a shitkicking reading of
Scofield’s "Hottentot" that I had never known these guys to tackle before.
Mixing old flavor with new was also impeccably done, ranging from "Hurry
Up…and Wait," which for all it simplicity is still one of Soulive’s
tightest jammers, to the show-opening "Aladdin," "Bridges to Bama" and the
lone, crowd-pleasing encore of "Do It Again." The set-closing cover of "If
You Want Me to Stay" (Sly & the Family Stone) didn’t start out well, but
crescendoed into a more-than-able closer.

-Ryan Zoidis. Kraz’s Lettuce bandmate and his screaming tenor saxophone
added another dimension to three of the night’s ten songs, and his
appearance was no surprise (I thought they’d bring out Kinniger, too, but no
dice), even though Soulive was reportedly keeping their shows to the
original three on this tour. A great touch, and made me long to see the band
with full horn section again.

It’s easy to take aim at inconsistencies and sub-par pieces of a normally
great band’s performance, but it is Soulive’s knack for earnest and constant
reinvention that keeps them above the ever-growing sea of jazz fusion
outfits out there. They have reached a level of greatness because their fans
are no longer asking "How far will this go?" but rather, "Where will it go
next?" And it sure as hell ain't easy to inspire that kind of confidence

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