This past weekend in New York, Terminal 5 hosted the 2nd Annual “Royal Family Ball” which has served as a showcase for the family of funk that has centered around Royal Family Records founders and the night’s main attraction: Soulive. Also on the bill, were Lettuce, Pharaohe Monch, Rahzel, Raul Midón , Roy Hargrove and the Shady Horns rounding off an evening of non-stop music from 7 until 12:30.
Lettuce guitarist Adam “Schmeeans” Smirnoff showed off his DJ chops to kick off the evening in addition to transitioning between all of the different acts. The first name off of the bill to perform was Raul Midón. Midón came on to the stage just by himself with a guitar strapped over his shoulder and a set of congos in front of him; but this one man was able to produce the sounds of several, slapping the guitar with precision to add a heavy dose of rhythm and switching back and forth between singing and mouth-trumpeting. While he may fall under the singer-songwriter umbrella; he infuses several styles into his unique performance, including jazz, blues, and a heavy hint of flamenco and latin-based music.
At around 9:30, Midón was escorted off the stage as the trio of Soulive (Eric Krasno on guitar, Alan Evans on drums, and Neal Evans on keys) emerged all decked in black suits. They quickly brought the funk with one of their older staples, “Turn It Out,” which the crowd – many donning paper crowns that were provided to stick with the Royal Family Ball theme; responded very quickly too as the main dance floor swelled.
After a few of their own tracks, Krasno played the opening guitar lick from the Beatles’ “Something.” Last year, Soulive release Rubber Soulive, which reinterpreted 12 classics from the Fab Four with a jazzy and funky flair. Many of those tracks evolved from years of being played on the road, where they are always very well-received and usually take on a new life of their own. The rhythm section is provided by the Evans brothers as is usually the case, while Krasno articulates the vocals with his guitar. From “Something” they segued into a funky take on “Eleanor Rigby.” After this medley, Raul Midón came back out, as the band jumped into John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy,” departing slightly from the previous two songs. This was a real treat to hear as Krasno went back to a more traditional lead guitar role while Midón handled the vocals and gave the track a soulful presence as well as a trumpet solo in place of the whistling portion on Lennon’s studio version.
The Soulive trio got back to their bread and butter afterwards with some more funky tracks such as “El Ron.” After Soulive’s 90 minute set, beatbox guru Rahzel took to the stage solo dishing out some lessons. The former member of the Roots crew has a unique ability to imitate different rhythmic elements and other sounds while simultaneously rapping and singing over it. After performing his own take on the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” and Jay-Z & Kanye West’s new track “Otis” he performed his signature track – “If Your Mother Only Knew,” taking his time to emphasize different aspects of his skills.
For the final set the set, Krasno and Neal Evans came back out; this time as part of Lettuce, in addition to Adam Deitch on the drums, E.D. Coomes on bass and Smirnoff on guitar. While Soulive is a lot finer and more precise with their style of funk and jazz; Lettuce seems much more stuck in the moment and concerned with providing a bumping soundtrack to move to. Elements of hip-hop are much more intertwined in their sets; which was appropriate enough as mid-way through Pharoah Monch came out for a few tracks. The guests continued to roll out as Roy Hargrove came back out on trumpet in addition to the Shady Horns who had been serving as the brass section throughout the night.
The Royal Family Ball can best be described as a party. The acts associated with Royal Family Records have been in the business of making people move for a long time and very rarely disappoint. They are currently taking this show on the road throughout the North-East before Soulive breaks off for some shows of their own; be sure to catch them next time they’re in town!
Words and photos from Jesse Zryb