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Soulive, Tribeca Rock Club- 7/29

Soulive has never shied away from trying on different hats; the trio has kicked it with everyone from the venerable John Scofield to hip-hop icon Talib Kweli in search of something they could call their own. So it comes as somewhat of a relief that, on their latest trip to the haberdasher, the boys came away with something comfortable.

Playing with unprecedented restraint and maturity, Soulive simply killed it on Thursday night, the first of three consecutive gigs at Manhattan's cozy Tribeca Rock Club (you can purchase the audio from all three nights at The band was in peak form: tight, funky and sounding more like themselves than ever before.

At a quarter to ten, the three baddest cats in town crept onstage and settled into their first rager of the evening. An unusually aggressive "El Ron" shook the sold-out house, and afforded guitarist Eric Krasno an opportunity to really dig deep. Krasno's playing is not something to be taken lightly; an incendiary soloist, the virtuoso took things to a fever pitch time and again throughout the night.

On deck was "Hurry Up… And Wait," a composition by Soulive's estimable keyboard player Neal Evans. The tune has also shaped up to be former band mate and fiery alto saxophonist Sam Kininger's unofficial theme song, so the man himself stepped up to plate…and knocked it out of the park. Kininger's alto is a force to be reckoned with, especially in the context of Soulive. His quick, jazzy runs and fierce, staccato bombs can push any tune to its limit, and "Hurry Up…" was turned inside out.

Following the madness of Kininger's arrival, it was time to bring up additional horns. Ryan Zoidis and Rashawn Ross, on tenor saxophone and trumpet respectively, took their places next to Sam for a quartet of tunes that would cap off the first set. "Cannonball" lit it up with Zoidis at the helm, slammin' it as usual. "Fast Maceo" cropped up next but soon gave way to Lettuce staple "The Dump," an obscure cover that, on this occasion, left room for Krasno to explore the sonic terrain before him.
"Flurries," a gem from the Next days that rarely finds its place in a live setting, brought Soulive's first, sweaty set to a close.

Hornless crowd favorite "Steppin'," the lead track off Turn It Out, jumpstarted the second set with fire and soul. Following the raucous opener, the horns climbed back onstage as the band launched into the new "Double Header," a slammin' rave-up showcasing a compositional maturity beyond a lot of older material. The piece is soulful, rockin' and concise, a lot like Soulive these days (and a lot like trumpeter Keyon Harrold; he stopped by for this one). The songs are shorter, tighter and less spacious; the arrangements are sophisticated, and thoughtful. This isn't to say that Soulive was lacking before, it's just that the group has grown up some, and their sound has really come to fruition; live music's premier students of groove have graduated.

But nobody's above a little house party. The boys slipped some De La Soul into "Rudy's Way," and Neal made it hot with a heavy organ solo. A rollicking "Tuesday Night's Squad" (hot on the heels of a brief "Raspberry Beret" jam, courtesy of Neal) brought set two to a close.

For the encore drummer Alan Evans yielded his kit to the devastating Adam Deitch (Lettuce, John Scofield Band), and grabbed a mic. On "Do It Again"
he worked the stage like a rock star. "If you had fun tonight and you just don't want it to end," he sang, "Do it again!"

Soulive are, and have always been, talented and entertaining; but never have they sounded so much like themselves. After years of trying on new and different hats, it looks like they've found one that's just right. Who the cap fit, let them wear it.

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