We live in Buffalo, so there's no way a little rain is gonna stop us -- particularly if we have the opportunity to welcome home our finest homegrown jam-soul-jazz band, or to dig into a lengthy set from the most convincing Grateful Dead repertory ensemble extant.
On Friday, despite everything but the "Cold Rain and Snow" the Grateful Dead sang of, a brilliant double-bill was embraced by thousands on our waterfront. Soulive -- authored and directed by Buffalo's own Evans brothers -- drummer Alan and keyboardist Neal and also including guitarist Eric Krasno -- kicked off the show with the finest set this writer has seen the band play in its hometown. Though the group has experimented in the recent past with guest vocalists, horn sections, and cameos galore, Friday's show found it kicking it as a trio.
This was more than a good thing. The three-piece format is where the soul of Soulive becomes more than apparent.
Witnessing keyboardist Neal playing the intricate and deep-pocketed bass lines with his left hand while manning the decidedly greasy Hammond B3 lines with his right was in itself a marvel. Alan, proving himself to be the equal of any funk drummer in history, provided the polyrhythmic heartbeat of the group, while Krasno laid down lines that recalled John Scofield's blend of be-bop, rock and funk.
The band arrived loaded for bear, played through the first of what would prove to be many downpours, and hit its emotional peak with a mid-gig set of tunes from "Rubber Soulive," the group's recent collection of instrumental interpretations of Beatles tunes.
"Come Together," "Something," "Eleanor Rigby" and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" gave the band ample opportunity to stretch out over delicious chord progressions, and man, did they ever take advantage of that opportunity. Krasno helped to take "Come Together" into the stratosphere during a mid-tune improv; The Evans brothers made "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" seem like even more of an epic than it already is.
Grateful Dead repertory ensemble the Dark Star Orchestra had a tough act to follow, certainly, but by the time the band was halfway through the opener, "Deal," there was no doubt that, as different as the two bands on the bill were, neither would come away looking at all bested by the other.
The early tunes in the band's extended single set suggested a slow-burn, most of them recalling the Dead circa the "Europe '72" album. "Deal" led into a strong "The Race Is On," then folded into a sultry "Big Boss Man," and then segued into the evening's first peak -- a stunning "Jack Straw," voiced by rhythm guitarist and vocalist Rob Eaton.
Later, "Loose Lucy," a gloriously invigorated "Good Lovin'," a solo-heavy and groove-centric "Hard To Handle," and a set-defining "Eyes of the World" topped off an evening that, though soggy, was rife with moments of musical magic.
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Dark Star Orchestra
With Soulive. Part of the Buffalo Place Rocks the Harbor Concert Series. Friday evening at the Erie Canal Harbor Central Wharf.