Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Brooklyn Bowl, NYC – 11/24
Photo by Marc Millman
At one point during Robert Randolph’s Saturday night show at Brooklyn Bowl, he declared, “Somethin’ about Brooklyn Bowl, y’all just keep making it happen… we’ve made up the last 35 minutes here!” For the last show of a four night run at the venue, Robert Randolph & The Family Band embraced their jamband roots with a marathon two set celebration. Former Randolph keyboardist Jason Crosby joined in for the entire show, while Eric Krasno of Soulive, Jamie McLean of Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff of Lettuce all sat in as well. With Randolph hosting a night full of loose jamming with family and friends, the show was not only appropriate for Thanksgiving weekend, but felt like a flashback to the band’s early days and a nod to Wetlands, New York’s famed jam-friendly club. The Wetlands, which was run by Brooklyn Bowl owner and Relix publisher Peter Shapiro, served as an early home for Randolph, and the band released Live at the Wetlands in 2002 as their debut LP.
Giving the show a bit of a throwback feel, the setlist was relatively heavy on older material, including a take on “The March” that was just as lively and adventurous as the version captured on The Wetlands release. Randolph mixed older jams like “The March” and “I Need More Love” with some recent material and a handful of surprising covers. Their take on Dave Matthew’s “Louisiana Bayou” evolved into a happy birthday jam for Robert’s younger brother, band drummer Marcus Randolph, and the two brothers switched instruments mid-song with Marcus assuming the pedal steel and Robert taking over on the drums. Krasno had wandered onstage before “Louisiana Bayou” and his punchy, wah pedal-infused solos matched each soaring Randolph pedal steel lick, as the pair patiently pushed each other to new heights during the aforementioned 35 minutes of “making it up.”
In the second set, Randolph invited Jamie McLean to the stage for a blistering cover of The Temptations “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” before Robert’s sister Lenesha stole the spotlight with her stunning vocals on The Staples Singer’s soul classic “I’ll Take You There.” Robert himself frequently displayed his typical mastery over the pedal steel guitar, while at other points perfectly content to close his eyes and dance as one of his talented friends or bandmates took the lead.
As was custom at The Wetlands, Brooklyn Bowl may have stretched slightly past official capacity for this show, and Randolph fed off the energy of the packed room, even abandoning his instrument during “The March” to teach the crowd how to dance along, and proved himself to be nearly as talented an entertainer as he is musician. Though their recent studio efforts feel like a departure from the jam scene, with the hard-hitting funky rhythms of the Family Band laying the groundwork for spiraling guitar duels between Randolph and Krasno, this night showed that few can compete with the passionate energy and spontaneous improvisation of Robert Randolph & The Family Band live on stage.