Soulive — Bowlive: Live at The Brooklyn Bowl
directed by Karina MacKenzie
Royal Family Records / MVDvisual
Ah! For a place to hoist a PBR, roll a few frames, and listen to modern soul music! That’s the thought behind Brooklyn Bowl and Bowlive, a music festival in a renovated bowling alley in the depths of Brooklyn that spent two weeks hosting the cream of American soul music. The club looks hip — neon and LEDs mix with retro art and the latest iThemed devices, and this film captures the sounds and the interviews in a handy, soon to be retro DVD format. There are two ways to watch it: with interviews, or “hold the commentary, I’ll take my Soul straight up.” I took the talk show bullet for you and can report that the musicians, fans, and promoters thought this event was the bee’s knees.
There’s a house brass line called The Shady Horns, and they sound solid, wear funky hats and goatees, and look great in Devo-style sun shades. They back up a string of other bands, some of which I think were made up on the spot to accommodate whatever lineup of rising stars showed up that evening. Soul music is off my regular beat, but “Hat Trick” and “Cross Town Traffic” and Warren Haynes were all in the lineup. Is there a coherent narrative? Not really, but everyone has that sort of enthusiasm that it takes to make a compelling documentary. There’s liberal use of split-scene camera work, bands are introduced as sparkly bowling balls roll splits and spares, and the crowd is mostly bouncing up and down. Overall, the party was happening.
Musically, this film tends toward excessive jams. “Hat Trick” reinvents the slow thumpy bass line they used to bridge scenes in Super Fly. “Too Much” showcases Nigel Hall singing in a porkpie hat and gives the backing band a focus; we hear this band performing rather than just jamming and hope for a melody to magically appear. Questlove channels James Brown (you knew someone would) and they sound nearly as good as the original. Various combinations of singers, brass, and drummers mix and match, picking temporary names for their groups and rolling out long lines of “featuring… ” credits. I liked Ivan Neville — he looks and feels more modern with his own fashion look even if his music could back up the Blues Brothers.
Sit through all the interviews and you see how much self-love and mutual admiration flows though this modern day musical collective. Is there soul music every night at Brooklyn Bowl? Hard to say, I get the idea this is a one shot concert experience, but their sound system is good enough to draw loose talent any night of the week. It might be worth dropping in to see if this place is still around in the whirlwind scene of trendy NYC clubs. Soul music may not draw the Civil Rights consciousness of 40 years ago, but today you can enjoy it for itself and not have to out and get arrested afterwards. Not unless you really want to.