Being the opening act for Dave Matthews is an accomplishment and honor in itself. Having Matthews introduce your band each night as "the greatest band in the world," however, is something else. Only one band can claim this endorsement from such an enormous musician: Soulive.
Soulive brought their potent mix of funk, soul, jazz, hip-hop and jam to the Tralf Saturday night, performing for over two hours to a packed house of loyal devotees. The show was a homecoming for founding members and brothers, Neil and Alan Evans, who grew up in Buffalo, attended City Honors High School and performed with Moon Boot Lover in the early 1990s.
As the lights dimmed, before the band took the stage at nearly 10 p.m., the crowd was already jumping up and down in anticipation and shouting, "Soulive." From the first pop of the snare drum, liquidly smooth guitar lick and crunchy chords emanating from the Hammond B-3 organ, Soulive had the crowd enveloped in their deep mix of dance and groove music.
The band played a combination of cover tunes, as well as original songs. A highlight of the set was "Cannonball," Soulive's homage to renowned jazz saxophonist Cannonball Adderly. In the song, Soulive's newest full-time member, Sam Kininger, explored his alto saxophone in a way reminiscent of the aforementioned jazz master, covering the extreme high and low octaves, with a unique, stop-and-go rhythmic pattern.
"Doin' Something," the title track of the band's 2001 release had the crowd roaring with approval as the Evans brothers, Neil on organ and Alan drumming, locked into an airtight groove letting other members of the ensemble show off their instrumental prowess. Guitarist Eric Krasno delivered a slippery and melodic solo evoking the playing of former jazz guitar greats George Benson and Grant Green, along with the rock sensibility of Jimi Hendrix.
The band presented an ultra-tight version of James Brown's "Sex Machine," complete with vocals from a guest rapper. Soulive followed the Brown number with a cover of up-and-coming pedal-steel guitarist Robert Randolph's, "I Don't Know What You Came to Do." Guest vocalist N'dambi charmed the crowd with her sultry and earthy voice, in a slowed-down, yet heavily funkified version of Randolph's showstopper.
Another highlight was "Hurry up . And Wait," also from Doin' Something. The band left the crowd wondering in amazement if the song was ever going to end, as they teased with a flurry a cymbal splashes and wailing horns, leading Evans to one slap of his snare drum and the band picked up off into another groove driving the audience to ecstasy.
The set ended as each member slowly walked off the stage after long solos, leaving Evans on organ and Kininger on alto sax. They locked into tight composition, reeling back and forth playing off melodies and rhythms. Evans walked off to a much-heralded applause, leaving Kininger alone to charm the crowd. His playing slowly fizzled out like a candle burnt down to the bottom of its wick, as he walked off stage to thunderous clapping and shouting.