Cheer Up! Robert Randolph and the Family Band are in town! The established pedal-steel player and his band came through Colorado in October, and made sure to add a tour stop at the beautiful Boulder Theatre on October 21, 2011. The band is has built quite the reputation for high-energy, danceable, uplifting concerts during their relatively short career.
Robert Randolph and the Family Band, though their uplifting music and lively stage performances, continue to add to their impressive merits as a band. In the past decade, the group has already contributed a song for NBA promos on the ABC network, has had a tune used for commercials on the NBC network and a promo for the Discovery Channel, had another song used by ABC throughout college football coverage, and played live before the start of an NHL All-Star game. These accomplishments are in addition to several late-night television show appearances, sit-ins with legendary musicians such as Eric Clapton, and numerous gigs at the biggest music festivals in the nation. Furthermore, Rolling Stone has listed Robert Randolph on their list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.
A close friend of mine likens a Robert Randolph and the Family Band concert to “going to church”. This analogy likely has less to do with Robert Randolph’s early musical training as a pedal steel guitarist in the House of God Church in his native New Jersey, but more to do with the uplifting feeling that one gets at the concert. I myself was not in the best of moods on the day of this concert, but I was confident that worries would disappear as soon as the show started.
Canadian alt-rock band The Sheepdogs opened the show, excited to bring their gritty blues and heavy chords to a new audience. The venue was more crowded than I expected for this opener, and the audience appeared very receptive to the music.
An excited crowd welcomed Robert Randolph as he took a seat at his pedal steel. The rest of the band entered the stage moments later (drummer Marcus Randolph, bassist Danyel Morgan, and guitarist Brett Haas). Randolph warmed up with his metal slide on the pedal steel before the band took the mic for some chanting. The drum beat started, and the band launched into the gospel-esque “Traveling Shoes”. This tune was a great opener, as the song is mid-tempo, features beautiful vocals, thumping bass and drums, and has several instrumental breaks between verses and chorus which compels Randolph to wail and send searing, sliding notes all around the venue. Following the tune, the show rolled on with some swampy retro-blues, gospel lyrics, and instrumental selections.
Still relatively early in the set, the band knew their tune “Good Times”, from the group’s 2003 release Unclassified, was going to be monster. The extended intro, which featured Randolph again executing some scorching slides from his 13 string instrument, created some of the most musical suspense I have ever witnessed. Extended jam is a token in this song, and the energy kept building with each instrumental verse. Just as the last chorus hit, Randolph lept back off of his chair with a microphone, landed to the left of the drum riser, and belted out the words “Good time!, Good time! We’re gonna have a good time!”. The crowd erupted with enthusiasm at Randolph’s acrobatic move at the crux of the tune. After the band wrapped up this mammoth song, hey settled into a much needed laid-back blues groove.
A short time later, the band segued into a newer tune of theirs, “If I Had My Way”, which appears on the group’s latest studio release We Walk This Road. The release itself is an homage to gospel and soul-oriented songwriters of years past, and this song in particular is very reminiscent of the old gospel tune “Samson and Delilah” which was often covered by the Grateful Dead. The group’s execution of this danceable tune included a lyrical and musical tease of the Doobie Brother’s “Black Water”.
Soon after, it was time for The Family Band to play a well-known staple of theirs: “Shake Your Hips”. The blues groove in this tune always reminds me of ZZ Top’s “La Grange”, and anyone who has seen the group perform this tune knows that this is the time for Robert Randolph to invite all the ladies in the house on stage to dance. It was humorous to watch more than a couple males attempt to climb on stage, only to be rebuffed by security. This evening’s take on the tune also featured the band’s members switching instruments, and even Randolph’s cousin, drummer Marcus Randolph, took a turn of the pedal-steel. Members of the opening act The Sheepdogs also joined the group on stage during this party.
The beautiful tune, “Keep On Movin’” appeared next in the set, featured vocal harmonies and an inspirational lyrical message. Randolph again dazzled with his slide work on this one, especially with his long wah-pedal outro solo to the song, which was also a fitting outro for the set.
The band returned for their encore. Tonight is was the infectious “ I Need More Love”, driven by slap-thumping bass guitar, some falsetto singing, screeching pedal-steel, chomping rhythm guitar funk, crowd fist-pumping, and furious crowd dancing.. This tune always seems to inspire some great extended jams. During this exceptionally high-energy rendition, Randolph slid in a musical tease of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”. Later on during the jam, Randolph again teased the melody from the song and the rest of the band caught on as they sang the chorus. As the night concluded, I looked around the venue and saw that audience smiles and high-fives permeated the dance floor of the venue. Just another night of work for Robert Randolph and the Family Band. But a night of ‘salvation’ for the audience members.