Nigel Hall learned a lesson last Thursday night &- it ain’t easy being the Godfather.
The young soul singer learned the hard way during Soulive’s tribute to James Brown during the second set of its show Thursday night at the Paradise. Walking out onto the stage in a full suit, Hall ditched first his jacket, then his vest before powering through classics such as “Sex Machine” and “Call Me Super Bad” while drenched in a sweat that can only be produced while trying to imitate the Hardest Working Man in Show Business.
Hall acquitted himself well in the role, and Soulive shined while bringing the classic funk. The show was the first of two nights at the Paradise, and Thursday’s date was a rescheduling of the band’s Dec. 29 show, traditionally the first night of Soulive’s three-night residency at the Paradise the days leading up to New Year’s Eve. As a bonus, these two nights featured first sets of classic Soulive, then second sets featuring the James Brown tribute Thursday, and a “Rubber Soulive” tribute to The Beatles Friday.
The band came out hot for its first set with the classic trio foundation of guitarist Eric Krasno, and brothers Alan and Neal Evans on the drums and keyboards, respectively. Performing some of their signature tightly arranged instrumentals from their 10-year career, Krasno and the Evans brothers showcased their exceptional musical abilities. Neal Evans, in particular, was consistently impressive, holding down the bass with his foot pedals while splashing the keys across Soulive’s jazzy landscape.
The three musicians were able to expand their sound when joined by Ryan Zoidis and Sam Kininger, the two saxophone players from the Shady Horns. The two have played with Soulive off and on since 2001, and some of the group’s albums like 2001’s Doin’ Something feature horns heavily throughout.
But the band was tightest while paying homage to the Godfather of Soul. With Hall and the Shady Horns on for the entire set, the group nailed all the nuances and subtleties that helped make James Brown as electric of a performer as he was. Each horn blast or quick vocal spurt was delivered with an up-tempo precision that threatened to blow the roof off the Paradise. What was a soul-funk throwdown became a full-on dance party as Hall and the band entertained through more Brown classics such as “Feelin’ Alright.” The only detractor from the non-stop action of the second set was that it ended too early.
In a city that James Brown will always be associated with due to his galvanizing performance here in the midst of racial tension that was threatening to explode following Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination in 1968, Soulive, Nigel Hall and the Shady Horns were able to resurrect some of the magic that made Brown such a musical force in his heyday. Whether bringing classic instrumental jazz-funk or old school up-tempo dance grooves, Soulive is a group that can torch stages and bring good times to any city they visit.