If Robert Randolph wasn't such a natural musician and performer, his effervescence on stage would come off contrived and he'd fall flat. But if that were the case, he would not have been able to pick up and shake the audience at Memorial Auditorium the way he did this mid-winter night.
Cutting his teeth as a multi-instrumentalist in the church gives Randolph both the motivation and the means to connect with his listeners. His pedal steel playing is nothing like you've heard since the days of sneaky Pete with the Flying Burrito Brothers or Rusty Young's most experimental playing with Poco: rather than the sweet curls and buttery lines associated with the instrument, Robert extracts the whines and moans of the slide/bottleneck school of guitar.
Which is most appropriate since his other major influence, besides gospel, is the blues. Randolph's extended set opening for OAR proved the two genres are not all that far removed from each other either. Early in his near-hour onstage, Randolph gave the crowd its first injection of life by slipping and sliding his way into Jimi Hendrix' 'Purple Haze,' thereby getting the audience to sing along of it s own accord. Almost immediately following, he and the Family Band turned the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street arrangement of Slim Harpo's 'Shake Your Hips' into a collective tour-de-force equaled only by the crowd-pleasing interval later where Robert went from his own instrument to drums and then on to bass guitar in the course of one tune!
All this action took place at pretty much a fever pitch. The changes of pace, including a tune with keyboardist Jason Crosby trading licks on his violin, were only relative: Robert Randolph's performance was a revival meeting cum rock and roll show. If he shortchanged anybody---and no one in the Vermont crowd would probably feel that way---it was himself and his well-practiced band who, in a different milieu, would no doubt deliver some genuine musical dynamics in addition to the rousing but nevertheless ingratiating approach.
But Robert Randolph and his Family Band are young and on the way up right now: they are set to open for Eric Clapton for a month in Europe later this winter as they promote their album Unclassified (Warner Bros.). There's plenty of time for them to hone all their skills and while they do it, they are going to enjoy themselves tremendously and, as such, tender an open invitation to anyone who sees them to enjoy it just as much.
Visit Robert Randolph on the web at www.robertrandolph.net .