Marc Millman was on hand for Soulive’s exceptional Bowlive 3 run at Brooklyn Bowl and put together a list of ten “lessons” he learned from the run. Here’s his take, photos and videos…
1. Soulive are a super-talented and versatile band. Over the course of ten nights, Eric Krasno and Alan & Neal Evans played with everyone from famous jazz guitar players (John Scofield) to funky horn players (Karl Denson) to great R&B singers (Ledisi) and a legendary Funk bass player (George Porter Jr.). And they were great with all of them. I will admit to never being a huge fan of instrumental only bands. I am always happiest when singers get involved for at least some part of each set (and they did every night). I like lyrics. Give me Stevie Wonder or Peter Townshend over Miles or even Scofield any day. And the trio format can be somewhat limiting (although Kraz & Neal as soloists can both get WAY OUT THERE). But these guys only played a few songs alone each night because they clearly looked forward to sharing the stage with all of their good friends and various guests. And the truth be told, all the originals performed by the trio were just as enjoyable now as they were back in the days seeing them play around Manhattan more than a decade ago.
[All Photos by Marc Millman]
2. [This next one is not so much a lesson learned as one re-enforced] George Porter Jr. is…THE MAN. Let’s be clear on this. There are many funky bass players out there from Bootsy Collins to Tony Hall & Oteil Burbridge. George is the funkiest of them all. And you know what, he is older then them all…except Larry Graham who is probably just as funky and a year older. But here’s the thing: George plays all the time, everywhere. And he plays everyone’s music where Larry just plays his & Sly’s old hits. And I’ve seen Larry several times over the years and always enjoyed it. But it always has the air of an oldies show. Not George. He brings it every night. And he looks to keep it fresh. If you don’t believe me, check out the version of Going To The Country he performed Night 9. It brought tears to my eyes. I’ve seen a lot of George since The Meters started playing together again when I was in college back in the late ’80s. And yes, he is a friend of mine, but he is still the baddest [and nicest] of the bad. The funkiest of them all. If you don’t believe me, ask Oteil. I snapped an image of the two of them with Oteil’s brother Kofi on Night 8. I didn’t have a chance to take a breath after clicking the shutter release when Oteil grabbed my arm, asked to see it and then begged me to make sure I got him a copy.
3. Bowlive is about a sense of FAMILY. It might be the brothers Evans who anchor down the trio known as Soulive (Alan on drums, Neal on keys and bass keys). Or it could be the Royal Family, an extended community of musicians Eric Krasno has worked to unite on an independent record label he runs with his own brother Jeff. Perhaps it is all of the friends you know through their shows and scene. Then again, it might be the new ones you met over the course of two weeks worth of shaking your ass and cheering loudly at Brooklyn Bowl. And it was most definitely Nigel Hall with Alecia Chakour (his “musical wife”) sharing the stage for their final song on Friday night with Alecia’s little brother on bass (he’s part of her solo band and this duo’s backing group) and her father, the very talented Mitch Chakour, sitting in on organ for a take on Joe Cocker’s version of With A Little Help From My Friends.
4. [This again is something that I knew prior to the stand. But it was reinforced after so many nights in a row in one club] Brooklyn Bowl is the best venue in all of New York City. Let me elaborate. I love Irving Plaza. It will always be a room in the City proper to see a great rock show. And over the years, there have been some special ones from U2 to the Foo Fighters, The Allman Brothers to Jane’s Addiction. And Mercury Lounge is a great place to catch a band that is gaining industry momentum. The Beacon is…well it’s The Beacon. And having said that, clearly there is no equal to MSG for a grand scale arena show. But none of these places have ever figured out how to combine live music with great food (Blue Ribbon?!?!?!), great beer, an amazing sound & lighting design…and bowling that you can’t hear while the band plays!
5, It’s all about the fans. I’m a snob when it comes to music. I don’t want to sound completely jaded (or old) but I’ll be 44 this week and I’ve been going to see concerts since 1979 when I first saw the Village People & Sister Sledge at Madison Square Garden for my friend’s 11th birthday party (yes, my parents and their slightly hippie-ish friends had mutated into Studio 54 types by then). So from years on tour with the Dead through the full life cycle of the Wetlands’ scene, I’ve seen just about everything. When I go to an event like Bowlive, I am there to see what the special guests will bring to the party. Ten nights of any band is an awful lot (that includes the Allmans at The Beacon). I cannot begin to tell you how many people I spoke to who were there…just for Soulive. A large number of them didn’t seem to know who the guests were! And no matter who played in any given configuration, the crowds were going crazy. Ultimately, all live music is supposed to be about is the rapport between the band and the crowd. Or as Jeff Bebe put it, “rock ‘n’ roll can save the world… all of us together. And the chicks are great. But what it all comes down to is that thing. The indefinable thing when people catch something in your music.” Soulive and their fans, myself included, found that thing every night.
6. Nigel Hall is a star. This man has been putting in a lot of time and effort playing with his own band, Lettuce, Soulive, the Warren Haynes Band and his fabulous duo project with Alecia Chakour [see #7]. But whomever Nigel is singing and/or playing with, I guarantee you will be smiling. The man has SOUL, he has charisma and most importantly he has a deep understanding of the history of funk and soul (let’s just say popular) music in America. From the time he showed up as part of this Royal Family mob, Nigel has made himself into a consummate showman. When Nigel takes the stage, people go crazy. And that’s a good thing. Because like his heroes (Marvin, Donny, Stevie, Bill, James), he knows how to command the stage. And that is what a star does.
7. Alecia Chakour is someone you need to keep your eye on. This young woman comes from a musical family. And like Nigel, she has a great understanding of the music from the generations before her own. The incredible thing about Alecia is watching her blossom before your eyes. Each time she takes the stage she seems to open up a little more. The pipes are already there. On the second Wednesday, she took the stage with Lettuce and sung Isaac Hayes’ Do Your Thing. I was pretty sure that my lens was going to explode as she hit the high notes. But most of the time she is very reserved. And you just know that as the months go forward and she spends more and more time on stages in front of larger crowds, she is going to simply explode. It will be like a butterfly breaking out of its cocoon. So whether she is on the road as part of the current Warren Haynes Band, playing in her duo project with Nigel or singing with her own band, watching these changes will be completely satisfying…and at times, jaw dropping.
8. Eric Krasno is the rare musician who actually has an understanding of the Music business. He has spent the time to learn how to run a label and what it means to navigate the muddy waters that are touring today. He not only plays in Soulive, but he is also part of Lettuce and Chapter 2 in addition to releasing solo work. Add to that his work as a producer (look for albums by Alecia, Nigel & the London Souls (see #9). And since anyone who knows anything about the business realizes that it’s all about playing these days, the Royal Family is playing at a club (and probably one of their own small festivals) in a town near you sometime real soon.
9. The London Souls are the best rock band playing around New York City. And from my perspective, they are one of the best young rock bands playing period. Of course this is just my opinion. But I love what this band is about: tight, concise songs that sound sort of like things from the past (the fabulous She’s So Mad, which clearly poaches riffs from Zeppelin should be left out of this conversation) and yet they make them their own. At times I think I hear AC/DC, Zeppelin, Free and other hard-rocking blues-based bands. But then I think I hear some David Bowie. And they do some great covers like a true-to-the original Stay With Me. And don’t forget about a fabulously slowed down and extra bluesy take on It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll) that should make the Young brothers and the ghost of Bon Scott proud. Check them out. And let’s hope Kraz helps them nail the sound and keep the songs nice and short on the upcoming album.
10. The guys in Soulive make great cheerleaders, which is to say they are really just fans of the music like their audience. No matter who is onstage with them, they are smiling and cheering them on while they sing or solo. And as every song ends, Alan is immediately on the mic announcing the person’s name with his [should be] patented “[fill in the blank], y’all!!!” and if that isn’t enough, Kraz is always grinning ear to ear and the instant the song ends, Neal bounds out from behind his massive keyboards rack to hug the person. Many bands love to have sit-ins. Very few show the love like this. “Goooooo team!”
Marc shot oodles of video during the run and has created a playlist featuring the very best…
Playlist: Bowlive 3 Highlights
And finally, here’s a full gallery of Marc’s best Bowlive 3 photos…
Ha! Are you me?!! I was at the same Village People concert at Madison Square Garden. I was the same age too. It was my first concert ever. My mom took me, my sister, was 11 years old too. Really quite amazing.
The garden was literally rockin. Sister Sledge are still beautiful!