“This is about the exact opposite of last night,” Soulive’s Alan Evans drily observed, looking up at the crowd that packed the Massry Center for the band’s return to the Capital Region. Uhh, Alan? About that “exact opposite” thing? The feeling’s kinda-sorta mutual. But don’t worry, I understand… kinda-sorta.
It hadn’t been a great day for the group, when you get right down to it. Between driving through the snowstorm that smacked downstate and getting a flat tire on their Penske van, Soulive arrived a half-hour later than expected. Apparently, this necessitated that the announced 7:30pm start time be pushed back a half-hour. No biggie: Massry staffers put up notices all over the entrance area, and people seemed perfectly happy to sit in their chairs and hang out. The band’s latest disc “Rubber Soulive” (Royal Family Records) was supposed to be a blistering examination of the Fab Four’s legendary discography, and everyone wanted to see it in concert – me especially, after suffering through David Lanz’ calculated desecration of “the Lads” a couple of weeks before. (Read review here.)
But when 30 minutes stretched to 40, and the only people coming onstage were duct-tape-wielding technicians, I began wondering if the tribute subject had switched from the Beatles to the Rolling Stones. Fortunately, this did not turn into “the breakfast show.” Soulive came out single-file at the 45-minute mark, all wearing thin-lapeled black suits and skinny ties in the tradition of the “Hard Day’s Night”-era Beatles; the only differentiation came from the color of the soles of the band’s black sneakers and guitarist Eric Krasno’s purple tie. Then they kicked into a completely nasty version of “Drive My Car”, and that was that – all delays forgotten, all sins forgiven.
The first word that comes to mind is “impudence,” and that’s a good thing! Impudence runs right through Lennon & McCartney’s chorus (“Baby, you can drive my car/Yes, I’m gonna be a star…”), and Soulive’s burning attack embodied that attitude right from the jump. Impudence was also what John Lennon’s vocals were all about, which is why the harmonies he created with Paul McCartney sounded nothing like anything else; the interplay between Krasno and keyboardist Neal Evans had that same roaring dynamic as they busted through the faithful-yet-pumped arrangement. Last but not least, the Beatles were a rock band, and no legion of George Martin string sections was ever going to change that fact. As such, Soulive’s stripped-out, amped-up matrix was a perfect antidote for Lanz’ faux-classical meanderings. The whole thing was propelled by Alan Evans, who – unlike Ringo Starr – is a drummer. Evans’ kit may have been a dead-ringer for Starr’s set-up, but Evans did more during “Drive” than Ringo did on the Beatles’ last three albums.
Krasno may have been wearing George Harrison’s suit and playing a ’60s-era Gibson, but his maximum-attack solos are light-years beyond anything Harrison could ever muster. It’s John Scofield lyricism channeled through a steam-powered chainsaw, and it lit up everything he touched. That obviously went for the rocking stuff like “Get Back” and “Revolution,” but Krasno still maintained power and shape while maintaining respect for introspective pieces like “Something” and “In My Life.” He saved his best moments when he went out on the perimeter and explored, as he most spectacularly did on a monumental version of “Come Together.”
Speaking of exploration, Neal Evans is Lewis to Krasno’s Clark. As the primary replacement for Martin’s string section, Alan’s brother burned away any memory of strings on a grooving version of “Eleanor Rigby” that also knocked Aretha Franklin’s take into a cocked hat. Lady Soul’s version actually had some positivity to it, but Soulive’s work-up still contains the dark despair of the original. Then, literally without missing a beat, the group opened up a whole new door on the schizophrenic “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” Soulive’s take on “Rigby was inarguably jammed-out, but “Heavy” was where the real face-melting began. Krasno gave us more of the same fire-breathing assault, while Neal was in his own universe, inundating us with knockout lines from “Tomorrow Never Knows” – the Beatles’ pre-“Sgt. Pepper” experiment with psychedelia – and referencing Mick Taylor’s rampant guitar solo from the Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’.”
It was all going so well. Then, after flattening us with a “Get Back” that felt like we were back on the rooftop at Apple Studios, Alan reintroduced his partners and said, “We’re Soulive, we’ll see you later.” I looked at my watch: The set was 45 minutes. I was convinced it was an intermission until the house lights stayed down and the crowd went into “ENCORE” mode. This was a band whose first set at a Revolution Hall show went two-and-a-half HOURS, and it looked like they were done for the night!
To their credit, Soulive came back and gave us thirty minutes of their own music, including a blinding version of “Tuesday Night’s Squad” that had the crowd on its feet. That said, it still only added up to 75 minutes, and people were not pleased when it became apparent that the house lights were up for good.
In retrospect, it may have been a case of “Wrong place, wrong time.” Massry programming manager Sal Prizio gets major props for bringing the band back to the Capital Region, and when they were into it, the music bordered on cataclysmic. But at the end of the day, Soulive is not a “concert hall” band; they’re a “Get up off your ass and DANCE” band! And even though more than a few people abandoned their seats to turn the top of Picotte Recital Hall into a dance floor, that may not have been enough to get the group to stay a little longer and dig a little deeper. Then again, speaking from experience, one flat tire can ruin your whole day.
Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk