Aaron Neville - vocals, percussion; Art Neville - vocals, keyboards; Cyril Neville - vocals, percussion; Charles Neville - saxophone, background vocals; Eric Struthers - guitar, background vocals; Eric Kolb - keyboards, background vocals; Tony Hall - bass; Willie Green - drums, percussion
Well into their fourth decade performing together, the Neville Brothers' unique blend of socially conscious songwriting, incendiary funk, and celebratory Mardi Gras anthems have come to epitomize the modern sound of New Orleans. The group's genesis dates back to the mid-1970s, when the four brothers, Art, Aaron, Charles, and Cyril contributed to recording sessions by the seminal Mardi Gras Indian group the Wild Tchoupitoulas, led by their uncle. Following this experience, the brothers formed their own group. Right from the start, the group began blurring the lines between rock, soul, funk, and R&B and infused traditional influences of New Orleans roots and gospel music into the mixture. Recruiting one of the tightest rhythm sections ever that featured bassist Tony Hall and drummer Willie Green, the group created outstanding vocal arrangements that soared over a polyrhythmic base, creating a blend that was undeniably infectious.
The Neville Brothers' debut album was released on Capitol Records in 1978. Over the course of the next decade, the band would occasionally be recognized with awards for their recordings, but they established their reputation through relentless touring, scoring legions of new fans with every live performance. Thanks in part to the Grateful Dead, who championed the group by inviting them to open numerous hometown gigs, the Neville Brothers were strongly embraced in the Bay Area. To help ring in the New Year, the Neville Brothers performed two memorable shows, headlining at San Francisco's legendary Fillmore Auditorium on December 30th and 31st, 1994. This recording, which captures the tail end of the first of these two nights, is a fine example of the band's unique style and exuberant live performances.
Featuring a heavy emphasis on material from the 1992 album Family Groove, this recording showcases each of the brothers' talents as well as the joyous buoyancy of their live performances. Four of the key tracks from Family Groove are played in succession. Things begin near the end of a soulful reading of "One More Day," led by the impassioned vocal of Cyril Neville. The reggae-tinged Caribbean flavor of ''On the Other Side of Paradise'' follows, with Art's supple baritone front and center, a swaying sax solo from Charles and Aaron's creamy falsetto adding tantalizing touches to the bridge.
For the last two songs of the set, things head in a much funkier direction, beginning with "It Takes More." Propelled by the outstanding rhythm section of Hall and Green along with the jabbing keyboard work of Art Neville and Eric Kolb, this number features Aaron's soaring vocals and an incendiary guitar solo from Eric Struthers. This serves as a precursor to the highlight of this recording and the final Family Groove song to be featured ("Let My People Go"). Here, many of the group's root influences combine, beginning with pure gospel harmonies. Blending the spiritual quality of the lyrics into an urgent groove that allows the musicians to jam a bit, this number showcases all the group's strengths remarkably well, both vocally and instrumentally, and leaves the San Francisco audience clamoring for more.
When the Neville's return to the stage for their encore, they dip a little further back in their catalogue and dish up "Brother Jake" from their 1990 album, Brother's Keeper. This celebratory number serves as the perfect closer, with the group pounding out their unique blend of R&B, funk, and soul before a very appreciative audience and all three singers trading off verses to exhilarating effect.