Bam Gets Staxed

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From the Playboy Blog, 2/20/08

As Alan Evans settled in behind his simple four-piece drum kit, he politely exhorted the audience, “Please don’t feel obligated to stay seated.” It was clear that he and his band, Soulive, were more used to jazz and dance clubs than the ornate opera house at the Brooklyn Academy of Music where they were kicking off the 175-show Brooklyn Next festival. There was some hesitation in the audience ranks until a gentleman chimed in from the back of the room: “Stand up, bitches!” With that, the predominantly hipster crowd thronged into the aisles and the band launched into its trademark hybrid of jazz, funk, soul, and rock.

Soulive recently signed with resurrected Stax records, the Memphis label that boasted Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and Isaac Hayes. The Evans brothers, Alan on drums and vocals and Neal on keyboards, kept Stax’s soul intact. Alan’s rhythms were airtight and on the few occasions that he sang, his voice had a gravelly quality reminiscent of his predecessors. Neal laid down fat bass lines with his left hand while pounding Jimmy Smith-style organ solos with his right and occasionally throwing in effects on a fourth keyboard with whichever hand was momentarily free.

Guitarist Eric Krasno’s influence clearly ranged further into rock, playing licks that sounded a lot like Hendrix, though in quieter moments he also evoked John McLaughlin’s strumming on Miles Davis’s In a Silent Way.

I saw these guys play a great show six years ago, but after hearing their latest album, a smoothly pop-tinged, melodic set dominated by the added singer Toussaint, I worried they’d lost their originality. Luckily, this weekend’s concert passed over the pop in favor of the old Soulive sound. Instrumental virtuosity and boisterous energy abounded, and in fact this show improved on the first. The trio got a wider range of sounds from their instruments by using new effects patches and pedals, or in Alan’s case by occasionally drumming with his hands instead of sticks. Their influences have broadened, they’ve added a few well-placed vocals, and Neal has perfected his rhythmic chicken-like head bob.

My first Soulive concert was good enough that I came back for more. After this show, I don’t plan to wait another six years. BAM’s Brooklyn Next festival continues until February 24 with a talented and eclectic mix of artists. Check out the schedule here.

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