Words by Bill Clifford | Photo by Chad Anderson
Robert Randolph and The Family Band warmed up for their upcoming Thanksgiving run at Brooklyn Bowl at the tiny, Stage I Theater, in Fairfield, CT. It was a stellar night that found the band in fine form, running though past classics and songs from its latest recordings. Segues from vintage blues recordings were looped between songs from We Walk This Road, the band’s latest studio platter produced by T-Bone Burnett, which harkens back to Randolph’s roots as a pedal steel (Sacred Steel) guitarist in the Church of God.
The Latin tinged instrumental ‘Calypso’ opened the set, a slow, funky groove that warmed the band and drew the sold-out crowd of more than 220 to their seats situated on three sides of the stage and standing room only along the sides of the theater. It was a pleasant surprise to see multi-instrumentalist Jason Crosby back with the band on keys and fiddle, joining Randolph and his sister Lenesha (vocals, percussion) and brother Marcus on drums, bassist Danyel Morgan – a Randolph family cousin, and guitarist Brett Andrew Hass. Crosby had left the band for several years, but recently returned.
‘Traveling Shoes’ featured Lenesha on vocals, while the trio of Morgan, Randolph and Hass joined in providing the looming, gospel rooted chorus. So much of what made Randolph so amazing early in his career was a lack of knowledge of secular music and his upbringing amongst traditional church music. Though he’d strayed, it was wonderful to hear and feel Randolph and The Family Band once again performing music this way, and in such an intimate setting.
“We gonna play this tune called ‘The March’, I know somebody is ready to march!” Randolph said with a huge grin. The upbeat and jazzy tune lifted the crowd from their seats and into the aisles to dance along, and midway through Randolph himself was moved to step up and away from his pedal steel guitar and encouraged the crowd to “clap your hands together, come on, do it!”
The bluesy ‘Pressing My Way’ featured rich keyboards of Crosby and emotional, aching vocals from Morgan. Here in particular, one really sensed Randolph’s skill and mastery of his craft, as his fingers slide up and down his instrument with blazing speed and dexterity, leaning the instrument forward and bending his head as if experiencing a spiritual moment. And on ‘Shake Your Hips’ the crowd once again brought to its feet, he invited the audience to join him on stage. “I need about 10 more ladies up here dancing with me!”
With an old blues recording looped into the beginning of the song, ‘Dry Bones’ took on the feel of a classic blues song, and featured gospel drenched, soulful vocals from Lenesha. She really belts it out live, with a deeply resonating and reverberating voice. On the train song, ‘Get On Board (Guitar 101)’ Randolph stood from his pedal steel and picked up an electric Fender guitar. Midway through, he motioned to the crowd, asking if there were any guitar players who wanted to join him on stage. One fan, Scott Williams, was quick to jump at the chance, and picked up another Fender and lit into a wailing bluesy solo of his own. Randolph and the band really get off in their performances and go out of their way to make sure their fans do as well.
The band closed out the night with a two-song encore that included the instrumental ‘Squeeze’ and then their most popular song to date, ‘Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That’, a heavy, hard rocking song. As the song concluded, he introduced the band members one by one, and they each graciously took a bow and left the stage, leaving only Randolph with his pedal steel, ripping off licks from Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Chile’ and Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ before he himself finally took a bow and left the stage with a wave and a gracious thank you.
Robert Randolph and the Family Band brought a polished, soulful, funky and engaging evening to sold-out crowd at Stage 1. And to think this was just a warm up performance? Now, on to the Brooklyn Bowl!
TheWaster.com | Shake Your Hips