The Neville Brothers play soul music in at least, oh, seven-eighths of its various and sundry permutations. It's a busy sound, with the four Nevilles backed by another three band members, but even in its most frenzied moments the group isn't out to simply wring every sweat module it can out of the music. The Nevilles play a kinder, gentler soul--albeit one that would still spook George Bush, and maybe Lee Atwater, too.
Celebrating with a capacity crowd Friday night at the Palace, the Neville Brothers set their growing sense of social commentary against their usual three R's: rhythm & blues, rock and reggae. This trip, there was even a fourth R: rap.
Rap? No need to worry; it's only one song, and Cyril Neville isn't about to change his name to Cool Moe C. It was perhaps inevitable that the Nevilles would somehow embrace this form, since they long ago mastered virtually every other contemporary style of black music. And if it's hard to escape the sense that a group with so many great voices is somehow slumming when it stoops to speak a song in rhyme, "Sister Rosa"--a tribute to civil rights figure Rosa Parks--is a tale worth retelling in any style, especially one more immediate to a younger generation.
But at the Palace it was mostly folks old enough to know who Rosa Parks is, and the dancing throngs delighted in the fact that the Nevilles seem otherwise immune to undue modern influences. The latter part of the 100-minute set was devoted to what is most expected from the band: a New Orleans-style Mardi Gras hoedown, similar to the kind of funk fest offered up by latter-day charges like Little Feat.
Among the new tunes that found their way to the live set were "Wake Up," a fast reggae warning sung by Cyril ("Every night I lay me down to sleep/I pray the world last just one more week"); "Healing Chant," a brilliant sax excursion from Charles; and "A Change is Gonna Come," a ballad showing off the angelic voice of Aaron, which real ly does live up to Cyril's on-stage boast that "there's only one like it on the planet."
Opening the show was the band led by young Ivan Neville, who has taken a far more mainstream turn than his uncles. One of the mid-tempo ballads he sang, "Falling Out of Love," is the theme for the new Blake Edwards movie; filmgoers who don't read credits will most likely figure it's Huey Lewis, whose voice and pop sensibility resemble Ivan's.