Soulive at World Café in Philadelphia 11.6.2010

Words & Photos By Alex Abramowitz

Saturday was the third time I have had the pleasure of seeing Soulive. Roughly two years ago I went to a Robert Randolph and the Family Band show, almost exclusively for the purpose of catching Soulive. The general consensus was that Krasno & Co. upstaged the headliners. Then in the spring of 2009, Soulive played a show to kick off the Roots Picnic. If I remember correctly Roots drummer, ?uestlove, swapped in for drummer Alan Evans during the encore. Members of Soulive and the rest of the Royal Family team seem to pop up everywhere. At an Umphrey’s McGee show last winter, Eric Krasno and Chapter Two opened. Later they sat in during Umph’s Pay the Snucka and rendered my favorite version. Soulive always brings a great funk sound the table.

Saturday’s show was at World Café Live. This is a unique venue and quite possibly my favorite in the Philadelphia. Features include entrances with two sets of doors to ensure that no outside sound gets in and great acoustics. World Café doesn’t feel like a vacant building converted to a venue, which is something rather common in the Philadelphia area. Re-entry is allowed so between sets one can walk a few blocks and wander the city. I often walk a few blocks west and browse the Penn bookstore. The bar is stocked with craft brews and in general the whole space feels very classy.

Nigel Hall opened the show with a very short set. He began with a slow song that consisted of chords that rang out for several measures and Nigel’s emotion-filled voice. After that, Alan Evans came out and backed Hall with percussion. Soon all of Soulive was sitting in with Nigel. Because of this, many in the audience hypothesized that there would be no set-break; Soulive would just go right into their set. To the crowd’s dismay though, that was not the case.

A few minutes later, Soulive took the stage, and after getting the energy going the trio delved into their rendition of Come Together. Throughout the night Krasno’s guitar led the audience in Beatles’ karaoke. Occasionally he would cut out and let the crowd take over. Generally the improvisation came between verses, Krasno often leading the way, while Neal Evans played multiple roles on keyboard. He took charge of McCartney’s bass groves and frequently played the melody simultaneously. The trio repeatedly saved one verse in each song. They would come out of the jam and back to the verse and I would realize how far they taken the song from the original tune.

Up next was Something; a track that is already bluesy without the help of Eric, Neal, and Alan. Again, Krasno took the lead. One thing that makes Soulive’s covers so interesting is Krasno’s accentuation of certain notes. He syncopated many riffs and let some notes resonate, making the audience anticipate the final note of a lick.

The crowd was a little bit low on energy at this point, and Eleanor Rigby was played next. I expected this track to express a lot of darkness and keep the audience from dancing, but it had the opposite effect. While the darkness was definitely there in Neal Evans’ church organ tone, Alan’s complex upbeat percussion completely lifted the mood of the song. Eric and Neal took turns leading the improv, while Alan backed them with a bright, ride-cymbal lead rhythm.

The set continued with a funked up version of I Want You which led to Too Much, an original Soulive track of off their 2009 album Up Here. As he did on the album, Nigel Hall took the vocals.

After Too Much, Eric and Neil exited the stage, leaving Alan to rattle off an incredible groove. Alan continued as his band mates joined in, developing a great jam. At one point Neil and Nigel were singing harmonies while Krasno soloed. Then the group went right in Tears for Fears’ Everybody Wants to Rule the World. This song surprised a lot of people and got them dancing too. Nigel Hall sang and went wild. The song shed its new wave sound in favor of a soul sound.

Preceding the final song of the set was an ambient blues interlude. As Krasno casually fired off licks, as Evans continually brought his cymbals in and out of crescendo. Then Krasno and Neal simultaneously hit the opening notes to One in Seven. Definitely a fan favorite, this song grooves and lends itself to improvisation. As the base melody faded, I felt like Neal was teasing the bass groove from Zeppelin’s Heartbreaker, but that’s only because I was at Phish the preceding weekend, where there were Zeppelin teases a plenty. But the heaviness of that bass line should give you an idea of how hard they were playing that tune.

Mid-song Eric and Neil left the stage again and Alan laid down a very tight drum solo. He went on for a minute or so, and then Neil and Eric came back. The three went right back into One in Seven and finished the set strongly.

Nigel Hall came out with Soulive for the encore, and the four went into Move On Up. Both the crowd and band were very into this number. Nigel was full of energy and leading the audience, dancing, and even playing the keys with Neil. The band then segued into Maze’s Joy and Pain and continued the soul medley. Nobody wanted this show to end, but we all knew the lights would come up momentarily. That said, the Joy jam went places and Nigel really hyped everyone up. I thought things would wind down there, but Soulive went back into Move on Up which definitely ended the night on a bright note.

All of my experiences with Soulive, they have thrown down, and this show was no different. I am partial to their originals over the Beatles covers, but this show gave me a new appreciation for those tunes. If you haven’t yet, you must catch this group whenever possible.


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