Early "90s, vegetarian restaurant, New England
The soulful Moon Boot Lover-a four-piece jam band fronted by the charismatic and spastic vocalist, Peter Prince-rocks the small stage in the steamy upstairs vegetarian restaurant-turned-nightclub for the night. The band launches into extended funk jams, sending the group of sweaty, bearded Vermonters into ecstatic convulsions. Drummer Alan Evans holds down the groove, while his younger brother Neal sends forth bubbly Hammond B-3 riffs into the thick air. A mental note on the talented siblings is taken by a music writer.
July, 1999, New England
The Evans brothers return with their new trio, Soulive. Joined by Lettuce frontman Eric Krasno on guitar, the three musicians don matching suits with skinny ties and exude a professional air. It's a relaxed afternoon affair, and the crowd is diverse. The band allows a 7-year-old fan to play along on the drums for one song. The unadulterated funk is tempered with Krasno's jazzy chordings. The trio plays with ease and grace, even though they've only been together for a few months. A music writer in the audience is duly impressed, buys the band's first CD, Get Down!, and it earns a heralded place in the music writer's CD player.
April, 2002, Belly Up Tavern, Solana Beach, Calif.
Touring in support of its second Blue Note release, Next, Soulive has added a fourth member, sax player Sam Kininger. The album features guest spots by Black Thought (The Roots) and Dave Matthews, but the show finds Soulive returning to its instrumental roots. The band rips through a three-hour set, rocking the crowd with long funk jams.
April 9, 2003, Belly Up Tavern, Solana Beach, Calif.
In anticipation of an upcoming live album, Soulive will saunter into San Diego County once again. The band has returned to its original trio, with Krasno on guitar, Alan Evans on drums and Neal Evans on keys. Hot off major venue tours warming up for the Dave Matthews Band and the Rolling Stones, the funky triumvirate seeks to instill jazz and soul into the dancing shoes of San Diegans.
"[Playing big stadiums] really was not different for us. None of us have stage fright, by any means," said Neal Evans during a recent interview. "It's just a different venue, really. The only thing that changes is your amount of time. Dave's crew was psyched 'cause we were always just, like, nailing things on time and just being professional, as we think of ourselves to be. We had a quick changeover, so they were loving it and loving the music."
After 20 months with Kininger before reverting to the trio format, Evans now sees a new era of creativity dawning. Less bodies means less downtime. With a quartet, three can hold the groove while one rips into a solo. With a trio, a certain degree of focus and economy is required. Solos must be snatched from available spaces in the song without sacrificing the essential rhythmic momentum.
But it also means that Evans and Krasno don't have to divvy up the solos with another player.
"It's great to go back to the trio," Evans said. ""Cause Kras and I were soloing less. So now to get back to the roots, there's a new life to it."
For Evans, evolving from Moon Boot Lover to Soulive's current incarnation has been a process of maturing and creating balance. In Moon Boot he was younger and really didn't have any "approach" to music, he says. Now he's facing the catch-22 of aging. While his wisdom and "approach" to music have solidified, he's realized his physical limitations and learned to compromise with his body.
"I'm not going to be a slave to someone else. If I play, I make money. If I don't, I don't," he says. "You have to set up your life the way you want to. If you're out there doing it, you have these great experiences. But I think there's more to life that being out there and having those experiences."