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Published: 2003/11/17
by Eric Leventhal

Robert Randolph and the Family Band, The Pageant, St. Louis, MO- 11/8

By the time most people reach the age of 25, they'd consider themselves
fortunate to have a steady job and a proportional salary. At 25, Robert
Randolph was just named #97 on Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All
Time, the only predominantly steel pedal player on the entire list.

Having seen Randolph and his Family Band several times prior, but never as a
headlining act at a non-festival gig, I eagerly anticipated this Friday night
show. My expectations were certainly met. Perhaps more importantly, however,
judging from the crowd's response, which was somewhat complacent at first, but
progressed towards what could best be described as a frenetic boogie pit by
the end, Randolph and company had won over yet another audience, just as
they've done so often in their brief history.

An early highlight was "The March," a song whose driving rhythm, in what has
become a concert tradition, inspires Randolph to teach the audience
its simple-step "dance." Randolph's lead riffs spiraled in and out of the
melody, with bassist Danyel Morgan and drummer Marcus Randolph (Robert's
cousin) maintaining a pulsing beat throughout. Keyboardist Jason Crosby, who
also contributed some fiddle throughout the night, played both percussive
roles and lead roles, continually providing the harmonious filler for
Randolph's cue.

The band's "Shake Your Hips," from its 2000 debut LP, Live at the Wetlands,
proved equally exceptional, transforming into a 25 minute-plus jam/freeform
dance session, complete with 20 female fans onstage gyrating and pulsing with
each rhythmic hip shake. When it came time for Randolph's song-closing solo,
even the man himself had some problems. Standing on his stool to energize the
crowd and the onstage dancers, the guitarist suddenly fell forward, knocking
his instrument to the ground and eliciting a chorus of worries. Of course,
Randolph's tongue was out in full force, a reflection of the giant smile on
his face. Naturally, after everything had been righted and the leader had
successfully laughed it all off, he launched into a searing, soaring solo, truly
taking the crowd's collective hip to equally frantic levels of movement.

Other highlights included "Nobody," and "I Need More Love," both off of the
band's just released Warner Bros. studio album, Unclassified. Randolph
introduced "Nobody" by saying, "This word can mean a lot. Let's make it sound
real important." In fact, both of the songs included extensive crowd
singalongs, as did much of the night's tunes, a characteristic which the
band's soulfully repetitive vocal tracks lend themselves to very well. In
fact, "...More Love" featured vocal solos from front row members of The
Pageant's crowd, as fans sang/screamed into Randolph's microphone which had
been handed into the audience during a lengthy solo prior to the climactic
chorus' reprise.

Randolph and his Family Band also gave a nod to two of their more recent influences
(beyond the sacred music that first put the group in motion) with a two song medley of Led Zeppelin's "Good Times Bad Times" and Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze." Both songs featured Randolph and bassist Morgan trading off the lead solo licks. What followed was Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely," a logical song given the band's romantically rich original material.
To close, the group reprised an earlier played tune, its "Good Time,"
stretching it out further with solos from all before finally concluding and
walking off stage to clamorous applause.

As the crowd exited the venue after a lengthy 2-hour plus show, the only negative words
I heard were directed at the venue's security staff. As for the band, the comments
were principally out-of-breath declarations of amazement. I've certainly never seen a
man playing an instrument suited for the seated position stand up dancing and
so closely resemble James Brown in both onstage demeanor and energy (and at 25, J.B. had just started to establish himself as an artist).

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