Words by: Martin Halo | Images by: Rod Snyder
Robert Randolph & The Family Band/Soulive:: 12.27.08 :: Electric Factory :: Philadelphia, PA
Philadelphia glistened in the night sky as the waning moments of 2008 approached. She illuminated the Delaware Water Gap along the waterfront. The city was still, but the corner of Willow and 7th stirred with the emotion of steel driven boogie as Philadelphia moistened in the Stax inspired, funk-laden, groove of the New York based Soulive.
|Eric Krasno - Soulive :: 12.28 :: Philly|
Fronted by guitarist Eric Krasno, founder of the instrumental project back in 1999, he and the Evans brothers have been dipping in and out of the trio formation ever since. Holding down the groove, as always, was the tight Afro sportin' drummer Alan Evans. With his head thrown back, eyes closed and lips tucked, he bounced beats off the Factory walls in a stiff funk manner. The immediate focus was on Evans, but quickly the ear gravitated toward Krasno's phrasing. His hands spoke with licks of musical upheaval that bopped off his hollow body. The addition of a brass duo further solidified the crowd in rhythm churning exuberance. The performance included selections from Next (2002) with "Tuesday Night's Squad," Doin' Something (2001) with "One In Seven" and "El Ron" from the band's live recording.
With an hour in the tank and a few righteous organ solos by Neal Evans, the stage was prepared in the late evening for Robert Randolph to work the house. The performance at the Electric Factory immediately caught me up after the last time I crossed paths with Randolph. It was his birthday back in Jersey during the summer of '07 and Randolph was celebrating with the Dickinson brothers of the North Mississippi Allstars. The Philadelphia performance was strictly a Family Band affair. The only thing missing seemed to be Jason Crosby, who departed from the project in the interim.
Randolph emerged into the spotlight at around 11:15 p.m. sporting a classic black vest and red shirt, with his band decked in sport jerseys. Randolph once joked in an interview while traveling on Route 22 near his home in New Jersey, "People see pictures of us and think we're rappers!" Those in attendance at the Electric Factory, however, knew exactly what they were there for. Randolph is a howlin' pedal steel wrangler that showcases vintage, church-grown boogie. A musical community nestled just west of the Hudson River Valley is where Randolph got his start in a church in Orange, New Jersey before moving to Colonial Morristown. This holiday tour leg led the lap picker through the old colonies before a New Year's Eve performance in the nation's capital.
|Robert Randolph :: 12.28 :: Philly|
"Love Is The Only Way," an uplifting number off 2006's Colorblind, kicked off the set. The audience began to move to his Saturday evening sermon under Ben Franklin's pipe. With licks inspired by Ted Beard and Calvin Cook, Randolph mixed the classic church pedal steel style with the movements of Stevie Ray Vaughn and Hendrix. "I wanted to learn how to play the pedal steel like Steve Ray played the guitar," he said back in 2006.
His feet shuffled the setlist on the floor during an instrumental jam session marked simply as "More Love." A simple nod to the sound tech increased the monitor volume with Randolph jazzed in the moment. Randolph's sister was on hand to belt out some serious gospel, though at times Crosby's absence was noticeable.
"Deliver Me," another off Colorblind, preceded a medley to the late Bo Diddley. The covers continued with a rendition of Slim Harpo's "Hip Shake," which brought a flood of audience members onto the stage before leading into "Thrill of It." Soulive guitarist Eric Krasno joined the Family Band for the set's middle portion, which further increased the audiences' buzz. For the first time in a long time, a younger beatnik gentleman with business-like glasses randomly walked up to me and asked, "Do you wanna' smoke some dope?" I laughed as a girl by his side started to giggle. Usually it's the start of a friendship, but not with this guy.
|Robert Randolph :: 12.28 :: Philly|
The performance lasted a full two hours before drawing to a close around 1 a.m. In conclusion, let's just lay it out straight: Randolph is a world-class musician with a lack of clear, memorable originals. This performance came in a close second to the smiling faces of the young women scattered throughout the venue. No lie, probably the most knee-weakening crowd I have seen in quite a long time. Philadelphia, I will be sure to show up on your doorstep with a dozen roses next time!
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