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Published: 2003/03/05
by Chris Robinson

Robert Randolph & The Family Band, The Paradise, Boston, MA- 3/1

I hit the Paradise in Boston on Saturday where I finally caught Robert
Randolph and the Family band. I soon came to understand why there has been such a fuss about
these guys.

This was my first outing since the fire at The Station in Rhode Island. In
our wired society of instant news there’s always something tragic to read
about but some incidents effect me much more profoundly than others. The
Station fire caused me sleepless nights and bad dreams. It shook me up more
than anything since 9/11 as both hit way too close to home literally and
figuratively. Once over my initial mourning for the victims in R.I., I
started to feel angry that tragedy had invaded my little realm of joyous
escape through live music. Having been in clubs like The Station hundreds
of times and seen many examples of questionable judgement on the part of
club management, I wasn’t sure how it would feel to relinquish control over my personal safety in
a small venue again. Leaving my cares at the door and losing myself in the music didn’t seem like
such a good idea anymore and even if I wanted to take the risk, would it even be possible while I
still had the video of Station club goer’s last moments of life running in the back of my head?
I went to the Paradise with sad apprehension that the emotional nature of my musical experience
wouldn’t be and might never be what it was for me in the past.

The sign on the door said "Sold Out" and there were people looking for tix
outside. Not bad for a kid from Jersey who learned to play a weird
instrument in church. The guy at the front door who carded and tagged us
told us to please make ourselves aware of the exits once we got inside. We
were reminded again by the guy who checked our tix further into the narrow
hallway that is the lobby of the Paradise. There were floor plan maps taped
up to the walls in the men’s room giving you something to read while
answering nature’s call. We staked out a spot on the back corner of the bar
and got a couple of beers in us before the lights in the half full house
went down for the opener Hazy Malaze. Before the band came out, someone
got on the PA to tell us to have a good but safe time. They shined spotlights on all the exits
and we were told to bring up any safety concerns
with one of the many uniformed security guards posted throughout the venue.
About halfway through the warm up, a bunch of Boston’s finest took a tour of
the club. They asked one fresh faced kid to produce ID but mostly they just
sniffed around the fire exists. Funny how things change, there was a time
that cops in a club would have made me say "Uh oh", but knowing they were
there for safety’s sake made me feel….well…safe.

Hazy Malaze was pretty damn good. I thought the name corresponded well
with the dreary state of mind of Bostonians in late winter. They were a
basic rock and roll trio with a skinny guy who looked a bit like a 24 year
old young Neil Young on guitar, an even slighter hippy kid on stand-up bass
and a big ass dude on a tiny little drum kit. The first song was a kind of
subdued rock-a-billy sounding thing that had me thinking these guys would be
background music for conversation before the main event but with the second
song the stand-up was exchanged for a big bass guitar, the volume doubled
and they were off to the races. The lead singer/guitarist didn’t have a huge amount of stage
presence but he was a talented musician with a strong tenor voice. The bassist thumped it good,
you could feel him in different parts of the body as he went up and down the scale. My pal Molly
complimented the drummer with comparisons to John Bonham. Large man trying to break a toy-like
kit. The talented Family Band organ/keys player was a welcome addition for a few songs. Hazy
Malaze was an enjoyable way to get the night going.

The place really filled up during the break and we maintained our spot at
the corner of the bar. We got the friendly safety advice with spotlight
directions again and Robert Randolph came out. My first thought was that I
wished I was upstairs so I could look down on what he was doing on the pedal
steel guitar. I couldn’t really see him work but hearing him was no problem. Robert Randolph’s
abilities were manifest. I haven’t been
this impressed with someone’s sheer talent upon hearing them for the first
time since I saw Derek Trucks in 1997. I sometimes don’t like guitarists
who try to "play too many notes" but the prolific pace Robert kept seemed
just right. It wasn’t as if he was attempting to fill up space, it was like
the notes were rushing out of him demanding that he keep up which he did
with absolute ease. As the riffs got more complex and the tempo more
frenzied within each song, Robert’s smile got broader. There was no weak
link in this band. I thought out loud to my companions that "these guys
could hang with anybody". They all seemed seasoned and confident like they
had been on the road together for a long time. Bass player Danyel Morgan shared
vocal duties and thumped it hard enough to take the creases out of your
pants was talented enough to have a band built around him. It’s tough to
put a label on this band as they integrated rock & roll, rhythm & blues,
gospel, funk, soul and hip hop in a powerful, jamming, slightly psychedelic way. I don’t have a
setlist and didn’t know the songs but I felt comfortable with them almost immediately, like I
wasn’t hearing them for the first time.

Once the set started I didn’t think about The Station other than when Robert
asked us to say a prayer for the victims. Though a somber moment, it felt right for him to mention
the tragedy and Robert’s infectious on stage manner insured it was a fleeting moment. Robert
didn’t allow the audience to just observe and listen. At one point there were a dozen female
members of the crowd on stage after being invited up to "shake their hips" which was not a bad
thing at all. The music itself elicited crowd participation but Robert
helped it along by granting permission for us to loosen up and give ourselves over to the music.
Perhaps sensing that the crowd had brought along a lot of tension, Robert informed us that there
was a lot of sorrow in the world and we needed to get some joy in our lives. He was there to give
us that joy if we would let him. We did. By the middle of the 3+ hour set not a person in the
place wasn’t grooving and grinning. Time flew and when the lights came up we were shocked that it
was already 1:30 am.

We emerged into the dank Boston night glowing in the warm happy vibe and
awed by the talent we’d witnessed. I felt as though Robert Randolph had
given us all a hug and said "It’s OK". Thanks Robert. I needed that.

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