Soulive : Bowlive – Live at the Brooklyn Bowl

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Peter Shapiro doesn’t simply operate clubs, he creates scenes. The man who fueled the environmentally conscious jam haven The Wetlands Preserve in its later years opened Brooklyn Bowl with partner Charley Ryan in 2009 in a 23,000-square foot former Hecla Iron Works warehouse.   And while bars in New York are a dime a dozen, a rock-venue-cum-bowling-alley is something truly unique. But a rock venue/bowling alley venue that draws local, regional, and national acts with equal aplomb is truly exceptional.

In the spring of 2010, the burgeoning 600-person venue welcomed funk ensemble Soulive to its stage for a 10-night residency dubbed Bowlive, and with the band came a slew of guests, as well as a camera crew that captured the fiery performances, guest appearances, and magnificent aura of Shaprio’s new scene in vivid detail. The resulting Bowlive – Live at the Brooklyn Bowl  DVD gives both Soulive and Brooklyn Bowl bragging rights, and for those who haven’t experienced the club, it shows that there is truly something crazy going down in Brooklyn.

Soulive’s well-versed funk, nimble, in-the-pocket grooves are at the heart of the DVD; however, the trio shifts gears frequently, and with the help of a host of guests, they also prove their mettle when taking on hip-hop, blues, and even a breathtaking reading of Tears for Fears classic “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Guitarist Eric Krasno’s tight leads and rhythmic chutzpa, drummer Alan Evans’ jazzy beats, and his keyboardist brother Neal’s left-handed bass lines and right-handed key vamps are captivating, the interplay among the players is in the eyes and the body language, and this DVD captures it with immediacy. Through the various interviews with the band, it is clear that this wasn’t your standard run for these musicians. Rather, it was an inspirational string of performances elevated by the ability to bypass the normal distractions of touring and focus truly on the music. But things get even better with each guest that takes the stage. The Shady Horns offer brassy, ballsy support throughout the performances, Robert Randolph brings his Sacred Steel on Jim Hendrix’s “Crosstown Traffic,” and The Roots’ ?uestlove, who frequently holds court at the club, adds his soulful drumming to “Give It Up or Turn It Loose” and “Made You Look.”

The residency coincided with the Allman Brothers Band’s annual Beacon Run, and guest performers Oteil  and Kofi Burbridge (“Butter Biscuit”), Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi (“Soul Serenade”), and Warren Haynes (“Born Under a Bad Sign”) steal the show with loose, inspired performances. Oteil locks in with Neal’s bass-fingered grooves with utter delight, working the fret board and offering a trademark scat. Tedeschi’s vocals and Trucks’ temperate slide work offers a unique glimpse into the couple’s complimentary tone, and Haynes? Well, you can imagine the fire that he brings to the Albert King-penned classic, and Krasno’s playing on the cut is equally impressive.  But more importantly, the guests here appear to truly enjoy  themselves on this small Brooklyn stage. Oteil’s smile is impenetrable during his entire performance, and the site of Trucks slapping fives with his hosts at the close of his performance inspires chills.

With camera views that are on stage an in the game, the energy of Soulive is palpable in nearly every frame of the movie. There are few tricks here; the band is the focal point and split screen action captures the band members, guests, and crowd in action. While there isn’t anything overly innovative, the more remarkable elements of this DVD are the two versions from which viewers can select. For those who want the music and the story of the venue and the residency, one version combines interviews with the club owners, the band, and its guests with performance clips. But for those that want simply to get down, a second option provides simply the performances, unadulterated and ready to turn to 11.

Bowlive is a document of Soulive, 10 years into their career and at the peak of their powers, and particularly their chameleon-like ability to shift from genre to genre with nary more than a one, two, three count. It is a showcase of Soulive’s impressively talented friends. And it is a snapshot of the early days of the Brooklyn Bowl, a venue that continues to thrive, drawing music lovers – and bowlers – to this New York City borough. Put these perspectives together, and Bowlive is a funky good time.

Bowlive – Live at the Brooklyn Bowl is out now on Royal Potato Family.

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