TDP Review: Super Soul Bros.- “Live at San Pedro Square”

 

Live at San Pedro SquareFor fans of: just about anything!

No, the 16-bit sound chips of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis did not put out studio-quality sound.

Regardless, the beeps and boops that colored preteen entertainment in the ‘90s are hailed as some of the most memorable tracks in history. Who could forget the opening theme to Super Mario Bros.? The melancholy goodness of the “Song of Storms”? The high-octane, high-energy thrill of “Green Hill Zone”? The video game fan community ceaselessly dishes out remake after remake of the tunes that kids couldn’t get out of their heads two decades ago. While many stand tall as perfectly wonderful tributes, they pale in comparison to the phat jamz served up by California-based jazz/funk sextet Super Soul Bros. Their latest live album, titled Live at San Pedro Square, is simultaneously an extraordinary homage to the video game tracks of yesteryear and a wholly original expression of creative work.

The “blast-from-the-past” factor is indeed a huge part of what makes the Super Soul Bros.’s latest LP so tempting. The group has covered a large selection of classics from the era, from the familiar and iconic Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario Kart to the more niche and cult-classic Earthbound. And while the tunes themselves do have the same notes as the chip-tune tracks of the ‘90s, they hardly feel as two-dimensional as their graphic counterparts. Every song on this album is unique and touches upon a different genre. Fans of alternative rock will find something to rock to in “Green Hill Zone” and “Song of Storms”; “Pokémon Title Screen” chugs along with a slow, powerful blues air; and “Chemical Plant Zone” and “Donkey Kong Country Theme” rebound with the energy and brightness of fast funk. Live at San Pedro Square is a grab-bag of various styles; while this creative choice was indeed a great risk, it adds tremendous character and body to the record as whole.

But what is the real draw of this record? Perhaps it has something to do with the musicality of the Super Soul Bros. Keyboardist Robbie Benson has an ear for sound that cannot go unnoticed; he experiments (to great success) with various nostalgia-inducing sound effects using his setup. Listeners will hear all sorts of beeps and boops on “Pokémon Battle” that somehow also refer back to other staples of twentieth century America (kudos if you can catch the Flintstones theme and a little bit of Tetris). He does not stay confined in digital sounds, however; organ and synth sounds are all over the record. The keys on Live at San Pedro Square are complemented by the unbelievable guitar solos of Brian Sheu, who likewise has an incredible range in terms of musicality. The guitar solo on “Song of Storms” moves gently and with style from a mellow and soulful melody to a shred-fest that would put Slash to shame. And even these two musical juggernauts both take solos, they seem to have an artistic synergy that gives Tom & Jerry a run for its money. All these displays of technical mastery are backed by the steady groove of a non-intrusive and matured rhythm section; one that deeply comprehends the feel of each style the record touches.

The record claims to “relive” the night the Super Soul Bros. took the stage at San Pedro Square; unfortunately, being an audio-only experience, it can only do so much. Many of the conversational interludes that clearly make the record a live LP are sadly lost to time, even though select performance videos are available on YouTube. This is most apparent on “Donkey Kong Country Theme,” where Benson seems to have an entire conversation with Donkey Kong himself. Without any visual cues, verbal asides like these suddenly become empty space in comparison to the rest of the music, and detract from the realm Live at San Pedro Square creates.

In truth, the real draw of Live at San Pedro Square has nothing to do with how talented the Super Soul Bros. are. In an age where the word “remix” brings to mind studio headphones, high-tech gear, and MacBooks, it’s downright shocking to see a group pull so much from the past to build something brand new for the future. The jazz-style solos and presentation of the Super Soul Bros. are the peanut butter to video game music’s chocolate; like the delicious Reese’s cup before it, Live at San Pedro Square just really is that good, all thanks to a perfect blending of two unlikely components. It’s a musical effort by a no-name band that should not go ignored, especially since the ENTIRE RECORD can be streamed for free at supersoulbros.bandcamp.com. Every hit they get on their website can only encourage them further, so get online, Devils!

 

 

Overall Rating: 4.75 / 5

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: