The Word | 12.26.07 | Connecticut

Words by: Bill Clifford | Images by: Rod Snyder

The Word :: 12.26.07 :: Webster Theatre :: Hartford, CT

Robert Randolph - The Word :: 12.28.07
Music has always had a transcendental element that elevates the soul above and beyond the strife of everyday life. Music fans across America were privy to such heightened states of bliss following the debut CD and inaugural tour from The Word in the summer of 2001, which introduced many to the then 22-year-old sacred steel guitar phenom Robert Randolph. The opportunity to see him perform first as part of The Word, and later at the Bonnaroo debut of his Family Band, was truly inspirational, moving and, yes, even transcendental.

On the night after the Christmas, The Word, which includes Randolph, the complete North Mississippi Allstars: Chris Chew (bass), Cody Dickinson (drums) and Luther Dickinson (guitar), along with MMW's John Medeski (keys) took the stage at the Webster Theatre for the opening night of a four-date run through the Northeast. While the large Webster lacked some of the intimacy from the 2001 tour, this performance was every bit as rousing.

With gracious nods to the crowd, the band picked up their instruments and began with a slow, amorphous, meandering intro to "Without God." To the uninitiated, it may have seemed odd to start with an unstructured free-for-all but with a wave and a nod Randolph brought the band around and launched into the fast paced foot-stomper. Sure enough, the packed audience began to sway and groove, whether right up front or way back in the bar.

Randolph & Luther - The Word :: 12.28.07
Randolph and Luther traded solos on their respective guitars throughout, and despite only performing together on random occasions the pair exhibited a rare cohesiveness. Midway through the first set, the tempo and tone shifted dramatically for a haunting take on "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning," which featured Randolph moaning on sacred steel and Luther playing out the protagonist harmony on the electric. Traditionally a short folk song, here it was reworked as a long, dark atmospheric smoker. The first set concluded with another high-energy rave up, "At The Cross," which gave Medeski a chance to dance playfully from one ivory key to the next.

The theatre remained fully packed through the break as the best was yet to come. Set Two began with a soulful, funky take on Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues." The incredibly tight rhythm section served as the backbone while both Medeski and Randolph soulfully grooved around the deep funk. One could feel the Southern Gospel grace in the heartfelt rendition of "Joyful Sounds," where both guitarists bounded up and down the necks of their instruments with a slide, inciting the most invigorating dancing of the evening. People were shaking everywhere on the spirited closer "I'll Fly Away," which included several Luther teases of "Turn On Your Love Light." Bassist Chew stood at a mic for a vocal turn that disappointingly never materialized on the Hendrix classic "Voodoo Chile," during which Randolph leaned over his lap steel, sweat dripping from his brow, his instrument swaying back and fourth as his feet on the pedals manically attempted to keep up with his hands. It was an inspiring end to a surprisingly tight performance that left everyone feeling as though they'd been lifted up to a divine place.

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