Donnelly: Robert Randolph & the Family Band at Liberty Hall, January 21, 2011

Robert Randolph is a confident guy. 

And why shouldn’t he be?  He was included on Rolling Stone’s 2009 list of the 100 greatest guitar players.  He’s played with Clapton, Buddy Guy, Dave Matthews, and Sly & the Family Stone

So if he wants to wear a black leather, metal studded Mardi Gras mask, he doesn’t think twice, he just goes with it…

And go with it he did Friday night at Liberty Hall…to a less-than-stellar crowd. In fact, one Liberty Hall employee told me that only about 150 tickets had been purchased prior to the show. The other 600 or so fans were walk-ups. The less-than-full house didn’t seem to affect Robert Randolph and the Family Band, though.

Known for their energetic and interactive live shows, the Family Band did everything to keep the enthusiastic, if small-ish, crowd focused.  During their trademark number, "Shake Your Hips," about 50 girls were invited on stage to shake their, well, you know.  Toward the end of the show several dudes from the crowd were allowed to come onstage, strap a guitar on, and jam a bit during "Deliver Me."  Surprisingly, all of them actually were pretty good, and the last guy even busted out a slide. I think maybe he was a plant…

The band is made up of Robert on pedal steel guitar, his sister on backup vocals, his cousin on bass, brother on drums, and two non-family guys on keys and guitar. Despite the nepotism, there is no doubt about the proficiency of any of the band members. 

Particularly impressive was bass player Danyel Morgan, who slapped and popped his funky foundation for the others to build on, as well as lending some really nice soulful vocals on a few songs. 

And of course Robert Randolph’s pedal steel impressed, as it always does.

Both nimble and powerful, Robert led his band through almost two hours of funk, soul, straight up rock and southern gospel, with not much stage banter. Included in the set were a few covers, disguised beneath the funk and rhythm: Michael Jackson’s "Thriller," Jimi Hendrix’s "Voodoo Child," and the Prince tune "Walk Don’t Walk."  Most audience members didn’t detect the King of Pop song until a good bit into it, and let loose with approval when they figured it out. 

A weird moment occurred when the band left the stage for the first time, before their encore.  As the crowd clapped rhythmically, beckoning the musicians for a few more songs, the Chiefs war chant started slowly, then gathered some momentum until it was full-on Arrowhead West. Robert Randolph emerged and launched into a call and response, playing on the war song melody. 

It was kind of cool in its spontaneity, but also kind of disturbing. For some reason, I envisioned that  those Chiefs fans who were recorded having sex on the hood of their Nissan Murano in full camo (of course) were probably the ones who started the chant.

Moving on… 

Sometimes I almost take for granted how much of a badass Robert Randolph really is, especially since I’ve seen his act a handful of times on big festival stages, with thousands of enthusiastic flailers going nuts. So I must admit that his show at Liberty Hall was probably just meh for me.  Maybe if I was a RR&FB virgin it would have been different. 

Not that that is the band’s fault. Though I bet their show the following night at Denver’s Ogden Theater was more fun for them. And more fun for the band usually means more fun for the audience. Usually.
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