The funk was brought to Ferndale on Saturday night
as Buffalo's funk/jazz/soul 'trio' Soulive
shook up the Magic Bag.
On the first simultaneously beautiful and stormy weekend of 2009, even intermittent bouts of thunder and rain couldn't keep Detroiters from lookin to get their groove on. Opening for Soulive was R&B, jazz, and soul singer and songwriter Nigel Hall.
I recently purchased some decaf coffee from Trader Joes called 'Smooth and REALLY Mellow' - pretty good stuff - and Nigel Hall makes that coffee look harsh in comparison. Hall summoned forth the spirits of Donny Hathaway and Marvin Gaye, taking his audience to bed and to church all in the same song. All this, rather briefly, from one man and a keyboard. Hall's opening four songs warmed the audience up as the Magic Bag started filling in. From what I could gather, pre-show ticket sales had been less than had been hoped for and the venue and band were sweating it a bit. I was shooting pictures from all over the venue, thanks to incredibly gracious access provided by the band and their tour manager Tony.
I like the Magic Bag, all in all, and $4.50 Bell's seems mostly reasonable for a music venue, but until I grow a 3rd arm, shooting photos and drinking beer makes me wanna get a beer helmet, or at least a beer camelback (whiskey and coke works too; vodka tonic anyone?).
At some point at the end of Nigel Hall's opening set I looked around and judged the room to be at probably 60% capacity - not so great for a Saturday night for a band that's opened for the Rolling Stones, Dave Matthews Band, and that has featured artists such as Fred Wesley, Talib Kweli, ?uest Love and Black Thought on their albums.
At that point I started talking to my old friends Miko and Z-man (whose recording of the show can be downloaded via torrent at bt.etree.org ) and then at about 10:30, Soulive came on stage. I spent the first short bit up on the rail, and when I turned around during the first song, I realized the Magic Bag was pretty full. And truth be told, the crowd at the Magic Bag was a great cross-section of metro-Detroit.
Men and women of all ages and races were on hand, and the Magic Bag had lots of tables and seating, and most of the crowd there by show time were able to get a seat. As Soulive took the stage, the small dancefloor started filling in and then it got pretty packed.
But all in all, the crowd was awesome.
People were loving the music and the first real sunshine we've seen this year was still shining in people's eyes well into the night. Despite the aisles filling in and the dance floor space per capita decreasing, I never had any problem moving around (or not much).
Started 10 years ago by brothers Alan Evans (drums) and Neal Evans (Keys, Hammond B3), and guitarist Eric Krasno, Soulive combines a smooth and creamy mixture of soul, jazz, and R&B, covered in a crunchy layer of FUNK. Some of my favorite music in the past decade has been bands and projects like Greyboy Allstars, Garaj Mahal, Galactic, or Medeski, Martin, & Wood, or even the Benevento-Russo Duo.
I love the improvisation, the musicianship, the precision in these bands that create amazing original songs and reinterpret jazz, funk, and rock standards. I first saw Soulive at the first Bonnaroo festival in 2002 and remember enjoying their East Coast funk. Seeing them now, I realize that for how good they were then, how far they've become since. Erik Krasno is equal to any funk guitarist around (and he's got great 'guitar face.') The Brothers Evans kept it all moving as the bass-less trio always shows they're missing NOTHING.
Alan Evans' drumming was pretty fantastic - I lack the part of my brain that any jazz drummer must have to keep those kinds of counts for all limbs simultaneously, and I can't help but feel like it's almost super-human. On keys and Hammond B3 was Neal Evans whose deeply chunky basslines, funkadelic keys, and warbling riffs matched well with the other two and who I couldn't help but stand back and watch in awe at times.
Coming out on stage with the band after the first song were the Shady Horns - Sam Kininger and Ryan Zoidis on alto and tenor/baritone sax. These two musicians have been playing with Soulive for a while and their compliment to the overall sound was evident through most of the night. Alternating at times between slower jazz grooves and dirty, swinging, funk jobs, the band was periodically joined by Nigel Hall behind the microphone. On one appearance on stage with the band, Nigel Hall brought up Detroit's own Dwele who joined Hall and Soulive for a raging Move on Up as the party kicked it into overdrive. With the five-piece band even their setlist transitioned from softer heady staccato noodling to a soul shakedown party (no, they didn't actually play the song), the crowd stayed with them all the way.
Closing their set as just the trio showed once again that there's little they're not adept at pulling off. As appealing as the lush, big, brassy tones of the woodwind saxes combine with Soulive, the trio alone is such a tight combo demonstrating great musical agility that it's hard not to come away feelin a little whupped.
Their encore cover of the Beatles' Get Back was a welcome lighter, but still crazy number, and the JB encore had Nigel Hall channeling James Brown in a super funky finale. It was one show that left me more energized than I'd started out, and as I wandered outside I couldn't wait to see Soulive again when they play Rothybury.
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