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Published: 2008/01/20
by Andrew Bruss

The Word, 9:30 Club, Washington D.C.- 12/29

Whether it was the blues, free-jazz, or old-school revival rock, the odds are that The Word’s performance in D.C. served up something anyone could chew on. The super group tore through close to three hours of hard hitting rock and roll that would could have made anyone’s New Year's Eve, only two nights later, seem anticlimactic.

The Word consists of Robert Randolph on pedal steel, John Medeski working his magic on keyboards, and the North Mississippi Allstars (Luther Dickinson, Cody Dickinson and Chris Chew) taking care of guitar, drum, and bass duties. The quintet released a self-titled album in 2001, which was followed by a brief stint on the road, but its last performance was at the 2005 Bonnaroo Music Festival. Given the wide range of The Word’s members' work, the audience brought together a broad array of supporters, however, the core demographic was comprised of NMA fans. When the group finally took the stage, the audience erupted in cheers as the quintet drove through hard hitting instrumentals like “Call Him By His Name,” “Joyful Sounds,” a top notch “Blood On That Rock.”

From the first note of the set, it was clear that the night’s performance was going to be the Robert and Luther show. The two guitarists played off of each other with a dynamic that was both competitive and complementary. By contrast, John Medeski's role was subdued and far more supportive than usual. This likely proved surprising to MMW boosters, as in that group he becomes the de facto front man, exhibiting the strongest stage presence, and generally taking more solo time than either Chris Wood or Billy Martin. However, in this context, it made sense that the keyboard player would be serving a supportive role to the strong leads dished out by Dickinson and Randolph.

Randolph has always been known to be an attentive showman, and The Word’s set at the 930 Club proved to be no exception. As the second set commenced, Randolph began to ratchet up his interactions with the audience. During one chunk of the set, he allowed front row attendees to choose which of his effects pedals he should utilize for his next solo. As he jammed away, he consistently shared smiles with the crowd and managed to pose for photographers. Even with the instrumental prowess displayed during the show, what stood out the strongest was Randolph stage presence. He exhibited a preternatural combo of both Prince and Mick Jagger by utilizing outer-worldly musicianship while keeping the crowd wrapped around his finger with his cocky-yet-affable antics.

The highlight of the night was a lengthy segment of experimental improvisation that showcased Cody Dickinson thrashing his way through one of the most wah-heavy washboard solos anyone is likely to come across. Randolph took over his drum duties while Cody wailed away on a washboard he had rigged up to a monstrous effects set up. He closed the solo by looping a feedback-heavy washboard beat, which he then continued to tweak and maim as though he was possessed by none other than Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead.

By the end of the night, everyone in attendance had received more than their fair fill of jam-heavy rock and roll. The Word’s set demonstrated their musicianship as well as a level of top-notch showmanship that is rare amongst instrumental acts. True, The Word is not a full time project for any one of its members, but judging by the response they received from the nation's capital, a full-blown tour would be more than welcome.

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