Robert Randolph and the Family Band, The Crocodile, Seattle, WA – 3/4
“Pressing My Way”
Well, perhaps the best area show of the year so far went down last Monday night at the Crocodile in Seattle, as the torrential stand-up guitar chops of Robert Randolph and The Family Band came through town. These guys picked what should have been an off night at the beginning of March for Robert’s second visit in less than three months (following his stop with The Word back in January). In a venue that is celebrated as one of this towns most formidable musical landmarks, this powerhouse of sound and emotion, whose name and reputation is spreading like wildfire through our scene, held court for those lucky few that were not too tired, or worried about having to get to work the next day.
That seems to be exactly how Mr. Randolph had planned it. At the beginning of the set, during a softer section of the beginning of the storm, Robert flat out told all those in attendance. “If there is anyone here who is tired, please go home now! Because we are going to have some fun tonite!” Robert Randolph and his cousins had come to party and, Monday night or not, that is exactly what they did.Going South preceded the Family band for the warm-up, with the soulful and sultry vocal styling of Katie Cornell. Their set was perhaps a bit out of place as a starter act for an outfit as ferocious as Randolph, yet somehow it worked well as the two groups complimentarily offset each other. The slower melodies and rhythmic compositions turned out to be a great stepping stone for things to come. Rhythmic-deep soul reaching rock, falling somewhere between the Cowboy Junkies and Fiona Apple is how I would describe this local up-and-coming quintet. The 45-minute set of all original music featuring sometimes-dark vocals held up by a strong supporting cast of very competent musicians, led the way to the rest of the evening.
The show started at 10:20 with John Ginty on the Hammond and Robert’s cousins Danyel Morgan on 6 string bass, and Marcus Randolph on Drums setting up an intro that eventually allowed the 13 string stand-up steel guitar wizard to make his entrance. Once Robert Randolph hit the stage there was no turning back as the band fed us song after song of high energy, emotionally charged power jams that lasted no less than 15 minutes at a pop.
They opened with “Calypso and strung it out for a good 15-20 minutes, at times Randolph was playing so hard tipping his guitar forward that my friend Bob had to readjust his onstage mics mid show, so they wouldn’t get in the way of the performance. Next came “Ted’s Jam," off the debut CD, Live at Wetlands. It started out with a blues and honky-tonk feel and finished up with some of the wildest jamming I have heard in a while. At one point Robert even incorporated an E-bow into his repertoire. This little battery-operated tool creates a focused feedback loop from the strings causing ridiculous sustains and downright incredible harmonics. 3rd up was “The March” also found on the new CD. This is when things started getting real fun as Robert led the 300 or so attendees in “The easiest dance in the world.” You just kind of lean back and move your arms back and forth like your shifting gears and before you know it You are Marching!
Randolph’s compositions are quite lengthy, as the first three tunes clocked in at a little over 40 minutes. Then there was a brief delay as, with all this hard core rocking, something finally had to give, in this case a string. The beautiful thing is, when you have 13 strings, no one seems to notice when you lose one. During a string replacement session the happy- go-lucky musician kept egging us on to get wilder.
The band’s bottom end is amply supported by 6 string bassmaster Danyel and cousin Marcus on drums. Both do an excellent job holding up their end, with the keyboard coming and going in perfect time and always there when it’s his turn to shine.
Next came the song dedicated to "life’s trial and tribulations and what we all have to do when the going gets tough." “Pressing My Way” deals with all this, and the lyrical repetition of, Press OnPress On, drives it home. With solid vocal trade- offs between Danyel and Robert, this song was my favorite original of the evening.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any more intense, Seattle’s own saxophone superman, Skerik came out with the group. “Shake Your Hips,” the blues standard, was most memorable to me from The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street. The only difference between this version and that one was, that this one was at least FOUR TIMES FASTER. In addition, Skerik led the rest of the band off on a “Mission Impossible Theme” tease, just for fun.
Another Broken string led to a slow, solo, saxophone serenade and thenWHAM!! The opening notes to Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child”. I had heard The Word do this song back in January, and everyone knows Stevie Ray Vaughan’s version, but all I could think of during this time around was”What if Jimi Hendrix had 13 Strings?”
They closed the set with a 20 minute “I Don’t Know What You Come To Do.” It included audience participation and delivered climax after musical climax with Robert making it sound as though the song was starting to wind down, shaking hands with those in the front row and then cranking it up again for another five minutes, only to trick us all once again. It was like a musical version of one of those dime store joy buzzers.
The band came back out for a comparatively short, (8 Min) yet high energy Encore called “3 Stroke.” For this song the band was joined by another local guest named Dan Tyack, who plays a 20-string pedal steel with two necks. Need I say that the interaction between these two was nothing short of phenomenal.
Sometimes it’s those little shows on the off nights, in the smaller venues, which prove to be the big winners. I guess the moral to the story is to go see as many shows as possible since you never know when you may end up witnessing the diamond in the rough. This show definitely falls in to that category and for those of you who were not there, you missed a winner.