Soulive hit the stage of Hell, the smaller room in the Masquerade, like it was a jam session with some of their closest family. Like the best kept secret they are, the three humble men on stage showed little of the power that exudes from their instruments once their hands grace them. After one original groove to set the crowd in motion, Alan Evans speaks quietly to the crowd, saying the band has a new album out. “Well,” he says, scratching his chin, “Sorta new.” He speaks as if he’s chatting with a neighbor, or discussing weather on a train. After ten years and dozens of US tours, maybe fans have come to expect the familiarity, because a concert with Soulive is like catching up with old friends.
The album Evans referred to was Rubber Soulive, a collection of instrumental Beatles covers that was released on the band’s label, Royal Family Records, last year. The album is named, of course, for the Beatles’ Rubber Soul, a classic in its own right. Rubber Soulive is best described as a Beatles album for the non-Beatles fan, or the mega Beatles fan; either one really. The album takes many of the classics, such as Taxman and Something, and manipulates them- twists the beats into fractals, pulls the guitars to new heights, injects the melody with vibrant organ- all in the name of soul. And at the end of the day, that is what Soulive has been doing for jazz, rock, R&B, blues and funk since 1999.
Soulive, though it has taken many forms – including different vocalists, horns, and many guest performers – boils down to three master musicians; Alan Evans (drums/vocals), his brother Neal Evans (organ/keys) and Eric Krasno (guitars). The three are what started it all, and currently they are the three that still propel it. The New York-based band has been through many changes, from lineup to label to country (touring as far as Africa and Japan), and finds itself at home on its own label. Royal Family also manages the members’ solo work, as well as side projects such as Krasno’s “Chapter 2” and new acts that the band takes under their wing to develop and tour with. Soulive just finished a two week residency at the Brooklyn Bowl called Bowlive 2011, which consisted of 25 artists over 10 days, as well as Jazzfest in New Orleans where they are regulars.
The band’s show in Hell seemed unfair, when they clearly had the experience and fan base for the larger, more illustrious Heaven upstairs (i.e. where Peter Bjorn and John played the night before). But no matter. As the band flew into the Rubber Soulive set, the dank, castle-like gloom of Hell was illuminated with the piercing guitars, crystalline organ and of course the soul-moving drums of guys who were all as cool and oblivious as cucumbers. The crowd resembled something from Woodstock; people seemed to lose their minds, fall into trances, and sway either silent or wailing to covers like Come Together and I Want You. The highlight of the evening was the group’s cover of Eleanor Rigby. Alan’s drums, switching back and forth from a break-beat jazz style for the verses to a heavy rock style for the chorus led the crowd on a journey through the classic, simultaneously reinventing it and paying it homage. The sheer effortlessness of each musician’s performance was staggering; like all the masters, they made it look almost too easy.
Soulive’s latest album Rubber Soulive is available now. The band is touring the US with Royal Family artists Lettuce and Break Science for the Royal Family Ball through May, and solo through June. Check here for shows near you.
Written by Nicole Banister