Photos and words by guest reviewer Andrew Markowitz.
I’ll never forget the first time I heard about Robert Randolph and the Family Band: I was at my grandmother’s retirement home reading a People Magazine while waiting to take her out for brunch. The magazine had a section dedicated to up and coming music stars and Robert Randolph was one of those listed. I can’t find the specific quote from the magazine but someone had asked Randolph -who had been trained on the pedal steel guitar as a member of a Pentecostal church- what it felt like to have the Lord in one hand and the Devil in the other when playing his instrument. Definitely intrigued, I went back to my dorm later that day and hopped on my computer to see what I could find.
I came away with a few live songs, some of which were featured on Randolph’s first CD “Live at the Wetlands” and an instrumental version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” that absolutely blew my mind. Jimi Hendrix still remains my favorite musical artist of all time, however Randolph definitely inspired a sense of awe that I felt when I first heard Hendrix. Randolph leads “The Family Band” and together they play a powerful combination of funk, blues, soul, and gospel music. I couldn’t stop listening to that Voodoo Chile mp3 for weeks and the other songs remained in my rotation for a long, long time.
I’ve never been able to see him in concert, however. Every time he’s been through the DC area, I’ve always had something else going on and been unable to see him. The thing that bothers me the most is that I don’t remember what else I had to do, but I definitely would have remembered seeing Robert Randolph in concert. So when I was offered photo pass and a chance to write a concert review of Robert Randolph’s October 29th show at the 9:30 Club, I jumped at the chance to go.
I arrived at the Club way early and it’s a good thing I did, as there was no photo pit available for photographers. Randolph is famous for heavy interaction with the crowd during his shows, so it made sense that there wouldn’t be a photo pit. I posted up in front of the stage, as close as I could, and enjoyed the opening band, Tauk. A jam band with a fusion of rock, jazz, and pop Tauk did a great job of warming up the crowd.
Finally, it was time for Robert Randolph and the Family Band to take the stage. He started off with a hypnotic funk beat and then fell into “Good Times (3 Stroke)”. I snapped a few pictures, then took a moment to look around, the packed 9:30 Club was rocking. Next up was an extended version of the soul/gospel inspired “Traveling Shoes” off the new album “We Walk This Road”. Then, as Randolph played the intro to the Slim Harpo classic “Shake Your Hips”, a group of about 20 women from the audience were brought onto the stage to dance during the song.
Later in the show, The Family Band started playing a rhythm that sounded familiar…could it be…“Thriller”? YES! The perfect way to start off Halloween weekend; Randolph led the band in an instrumental version of that classic song and a few minutes in the crowd erupted into a loud cheer when he played its famous chorus. This part of the performance brought one of the funniest moments of the night. As Randolph slowly brought the song to a close, his backup singer and sister Lenesha threw a maraca at him, hitting him in the shoulder, as if to say “end it already!” Randolph turned, smiled, and took the hint to finish the song.
Another highlight of the night was “If I Had My Way” from the new album. Randolph threw in a snippet of the Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water” with its famous chorus, which the crowd sang along to. The biggest highlight of the night came when Randolph showed his proficiency on the electric guitar and then took volunteers from the crowd. After a few minutes of jamming with the band, Randolph picked up a spare guitar that was sitting on stage and walked back and forth looking into the crowd; looking for a volunteer to join him on stage. The first two guitarists fared pretty well, but the third volunteer, Tom Rosso, was fantastic and spent a few minutes on stage soloing while Randolph looked on and held a steady rhythm. Randolph looked out into the crowd and nodded in approval of Rosso’s skill while he played. As the jam wound down and The Family Band stopped playing, Randolph and Rosso were left on stage facing each other, taking turns playing different notes. It was a great sight to see and Rosso walked off the stage to a huge ovation from the 9:30 crowd.
The show came to an end with the hard rocking “Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That”, which brought a loud cheer from the crowd when Randolph tore into its opening notes. The crowd sang along with the chorus and the band members left the stage one by one, leaving Randolph on stage with his pedal steel guitar. He played a few notes of “Voodoo Chile” which got my hopes up but to my dismay didn’t play the whole song. The encore ended with “Roll Up”.
Overall, it was a fantastic show. Randolph is an absolute master at the pedal steel guitar and any music fan can appreciate his skill. The Family Band consists of cousins Marcus on the drums, Danyel Morgan on bass, and sister Lenesha as the backup vocalist. Keyboardist and guitarist Brett Andrew Haas and rhythm guitarist Adam Smirnoff round out the band to provide a great beat that allows Randolph’s solos to soar. I can easily say that this was one of my favorite concerts and I would suggest seeing Robert Randolph and the Family Band to just about anyone.