O.A.R. / Robert Randolph & The Family Band
"The architecture of this place looks very 19th century," I mused to myself as the venue lights blinked in order to alert all concertgoers that the show was about to start. "It could use a paint job though." I let this and other random thoughts sink in while The Robert Randolph Family Band took the stage. Drummer Marcus Randolph was decked out in Ty Law's #24 jersey which educed numerous cheers for New England's beloved Patriots from the crowd. Jason Crosby started off the show by banging out the Beverly Hills Cop theme on the violin while Robert and bassist Danyel Morgan took their places. This led to a jam in which the guitar and violin dueled with each other over a solid bass and drum combo. Danyel switched to guitar in the middle of the jam and matched licks with Robert in a frantic two guitar solo. Almost immediately the energy that the Robert Randolph Family Band brings on stage was siphoned by a crowd that cheered for more.
The second song started with Danyel slapping and beating a funky bassline while Robert seated himself behind the pedal steel. "I Don't Know What You Come To Do" was sung by Danyel in a shimmering high pitched falsetto while his bassline held the rhythm. The following jam section saw Robert, Danyel and Marcus exchanging instruments and taking turns soloing. The feeling on the stage was now that of a free-for-all-every-man-for-himself-rapid-fire-solo-off with the band members jumping around and stomping their feet emphatically in time with the music before everybody returned to their original places to finish off the song. An instrumental version of "Purple Haze" was next, a very fitting song for Robert to peal out on the pedal steel. A triplet infused slap bass solo brought the tune to a climax before giving way to "Press On," a slow, sweet and soulful composition which was a welcomed respite from the on-stage insanity. During the song, Robert asked the crowd to reflect on their hard times and to shout "press on" along with the band.
Jerry DePizzo, the sax player from OAR, then joined the group for instrumental covers of Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" and "Billy Jean." These songs were characterized by beautifully toned sax and organ solos, the two instruments not prevalent until this point. An upbeat and crunchy pedal steel riff brought in the final song of the set, "Nobody Loves Me Like You Love Me." Danyel's penetrating falsetto and the faster middle section made it compulsory for the crowd to feel this vocal driven musical expedition. A lengthy vamp rounded off the set and brought the crowd back down to earth as the band left the stage with Robert's final words of wisdom: "Don't let nobody take your joy away from you, can I get a witness."
The madness that was The Robert Randolph Family Band gave way to the more benign and impersonal style of O.A.R. Every one of their songs is planned out and mostly vocal oriented with quite a few uncluttered musical moments. Their set started with the heavy reggae beat of "The Wanderer." The scratchy clean guitar and vocals give way to a distorted power chord infused chorus and finally to a wah and reverb effect heavy guitar solo. This morphed into the simple and sweet lead guitar riff of "Right on time." Jason Crosby joined in on "Risen," and added a happy go lucky meandering violin solo to this otherwise standard O.A.R. song. A new song "52-50" metamorphosed into a spacey guitar solo in the middle that was a minute but welcome step outside of the box from the earlier songs in the set.
During a break between songs, lead singer Marc Roberge mentioned the Patriots superbowl championship and offered congratulations but then warned us, "The Redskins are gonna dominate next season, watch out!" A flurry of boos and Yankees sucks chants (wrong team, wrong city, wrong sport… only in Boston) were violently hurled at the stage before he jested that he was only messing with everyone. The band then went into an overextended version of "That Was A Crazy Game Of Poker." There were a lot of solos (sax and guitar) and lackadaisical interludes between the solos, but the crowd ate it up and loved every minute of it. Robert Randolph was brought on stage to help with another crowd pleaser in "Anyway" that ended the set in a chaotic fury that was reminiscent of earlier in the night. Both Bands then convened onstage for an all too crowded encore of Led Zeppelins "Fool in the rain."
The loose-cannon style of The Robert Randolph Family Band and the neat and clean music of O.A.R. gave a salty-sweet flavor to the evening. While the music was tight and very well performed, the energy levels dipped during O.A.R.'s set which was a bit of a let down after the lively performance of Robert Randolph and the Family Band. Still, all in all, it was one of those nights that allowed many of us to lose ourselves in the music, infusing us with added vitality for later moments when we'll need to press on.