When I first heard from my friend Cei Cei that Soulive was making a Beatles cover album, I was overwhelmingly excited, but maybe just a bit apprehensive too. Soulive and the Beatles! Jeez, combining two things THAT awesome, could it work? Would it be like a space station and a particle physics experiment; two incredible things that utterly blow your mind when put together? Or would it be like chocolate and pizza; two of the tastiest things out there, which are just… a desecration when combined.
The album came out, I got it, and to my surprise it was somewhere inbetween these extremes. I was fascinated by it, but I just didn’t find myself delighting in it. Hmmm. I gave it a few listens and came to the conclusion which should have been immediately obvious: I need to see this happen in person.
Explaining the appeal of the Beatles/Soulive mashup is a bit like trying to explain the excitement of a formula one race to someone who’s only seen photographs–you need to see it in motion to understand what’s so cool about it. This was a fact in my brain, a piece of knowledge that I had, but did not understand, did not GROK, until I saw Krazno light up those solos on the stage right in front of me.
There’s something about Soulive which seems to be impossible to capture in a recording studio, the same way that a brilliant sunset from an airplane window looks ho-hum in the photo you took. Both musical performance-wise and listener perception-wise, there is a wide gulf between sitting on the couch and thumbing through the liner notes while a funked-out “Come Together” bounces your speaker cones around, versus watching Krazno give you his oh-face in the midst of bending notes in a solo while the keyboard bass is so loud you feel it in your chest and the crowd of funk-addicts around you throws up their hands in exaltation when the top of “She’s So Heavy” comes down on you all like a sledgehammer. That kind of revelrie, that kind of music-gasm just can’t be captured on tape, the same way you can’t catch the smell of a crisp autumn afternoon in a jar.
I’ll cut straight to the chase and say that the Soulive performance was the highlight of Bear Creek 2010 for me. I later recovered the tapes online and listened back to confirm; was it really as mind-blowing as I remember it being?! Answer: Yes. (and maybe no for a few lesser tunes). I’ve seen Soulive five or six times, with various supplimental musicians and they never cease to please, but this show was a treat. Maybe the boys felt they needed to step up the game for the festival crowd, or maybe they were just having fun that night. Either way, they played with a ferocity that put a smile on my face and a fire under my feet.
During the daytime at the Spirit of Suanee park in Florida, it was perfectly warm and pleasant during the day, but dropped down to positively frigid at night. When the guys came out to play, they were all wearing gloves! Alan Evans kicked off the show by launching straight into a loud and energetic drumbeat. All three of them took off the gloves, literally and figuratively, and proceeded to change the way I looked at their latest album. You could see their breath in the cold, and the way Neil Evans was backlit by the red stage lighting, it looked like the man was breathing fire!
I can’t say it’s *the best* show I’ve ever seen them play–that honor goes to 2005 at the House of Blues in Chicago back when they had their horn section with them. THAT show was one of the all-time best-ever shows I will see in my lifetime though, so it’s a bit unfair to compare these. But I will say that Krazno in particular, completely burned that stage to the ground at Bear Creek. I’ve always thought highly of his technical prowess as a soloist, but that night he busted out more chops than a karate tournament. Face=melted.
What draws me to him so much is the way he couples up the frenetic, cerebral phrases of a heady jazz guitarist with the slow-and-deliberate language of a blues guitarist. These come at you in a continuous train of alternating content that picks you up and whirls you around violently, then gently coos in your ear. Listening to him solo is the auditory equivalent of that carnival ride called “The Zipper”–sometimes you’re moving straight forward with no butterflies in your stomach at all. Then all of a sudden your face is slammed into the mat in front of you and you cartwheel five times in rapid succession with the force of several G’s. And you never know when it’s about to hit you.
It’s this that really made the performance, combined with these familiar Beatles anthems that you’ve known your whole life. See this clip of “Something”, a small section of which I captured on video, as seen below:
We got to see the man ply his craft several times at Bear Creek, in a wide variety of settings: Soulive, Lettuce, Lettuce again, Chapter 7 (his solo act), and even late night in a lo-fi jam session underneath the Bear Creek guesthouse. Most of the time he spent onstage was as a backup man, only steppin up occasionally for the quick solo burst. The Chapter 7 show was a joy, although I often wished he would stretch a bit longer. Seeing as it’s his band, I guess Eric prefers it short and sweet. And those two things he was. Having seen him many times in the past, it’s a pleasure to state I think he’s at the top of his game.
Seeing Soulive tear through those Beatles tunes with vigor and visible emotion breathed a whole new life into the Rubber Soulive record for me. I now regret not buying it on LP when I saw it at the merch booth. Maybe it is simply the recollection of how much fun it was to watch the performers up close and to get that energy off the crowd around you, but I unquestionably have a whole new appreciation for the Beatles covers. This album has transcended the league of chocolate pizza to carve itself a niche in the higher eschlons of funk albums, both 1.as a novelty tribute album, and also 2. as work of its own merit, which I now appreciate more having seen it unfold with my own eyes.