Robert Randolph & The Family Band with North Mississippi AllStars | 12.03.03 | Gothic Theatre | Denver, CO
Years ago, the North Mississippi Allstars invited Robert Randolph and the Family Band to open for them at a Bowery Ballroom show in NYC. The Allstars returned the favor by opening for the Family Band here in Colorado. A sold-out Gothic Theatre crowd was bursting at the seams in anticipation for both these bands. Just so happened that the NMA got to warm everybody up this cold winter night and it didn't take long at all.
NMA took stage without Duwayne Burnside. No mention was made about his absence so I assume it was circumstantial. So it was the trio of brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson and Chris Chew stepping up to the plate to deliver an hour full of hard-driving, greasy, southern-fried rock. This was my first exposure to live North Mississippi Allstars and I was immediately impressed with their song craftsmanship and, of course, Luther's guitar work.
If you haven't heard Luther Dickinson play live by now, you might as well put it on your New Year's resolution list immediately. You'll hear the influences of Hendrix and Dickey Betts' chord progressions. A song like "Be So Glad" struck me as a tasty homage to the Allman Brothers. His signature southern blues sound frequently includes bottleneck slide guitar playing. Polaris, the band's latest release, is a solid studio record, but only hints at the power of Luther's live sound. He can make his six-string cry, sing, and soar with the best of them.
Luther spent most of the evening belting out gritty Delta blues vocals to accompany his guitar work. Cody, meanwhile, beats the tar out of his drum kit. But the Dickinson brothers don't mind switching things around on stage. Towards the end of their set, Luther took a seat behind the drums while Cody stepped out to play a washboard via effects machine that ended up sounding like we were taking off into the cosmos.
Throughout the set, Chris Chew's consistently flavorful bass tethered the guitar and drum work together. Holding his bass about a foot from his chin, Chew's funky facial expressions reflected the nasty grooves he was dropping.
The crowd was way past warm as Robert Randolph and his Family Band took the stage. By donning a Carmelo Anthony jersey for this show in Denver, Randolph was virtually guaranteeing an enthusiastic welcome. Right off the bat, the Family Band chugged up a firestorm of energy in the form of "Jailbird." Bassist Danyel Morgan broke a bass string mid-song and ended up finishing it with a guitar. As if choreographed, Morgan and Randolph proceeded to duel with high-speed riffs on their electric guitars. Possibly even more impressive was Marcus Randolph's relentless drum pace. Marcus pounded his kit with precision and a fair amount of tempo-changing flair. In slower songs, he'd fit extra licks into a rhythm that filled out space nicely.
For most of the set Randolph took a seat at his sacred pedal steel, and let the spirit move him. On "Nobody," he wore an infectious smile and declared, "If you didn't come with your dancin' shoes tonight, you might as well go home." I think I've heard that one before but the crowd took him up on the invitation. After a soulful rendition of "Problems" that had Morgan singing and delivering a fine bass solo, a cadre of ladies joined Randolph for "Shake Your Hips." No less than fourteen local ladies shook what their mammas gave them around Randolph, inspiring him to stand up on his stool and shake his own moneymaker during a chorus. A rendition of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" seemed to keep the crowd engaged as we all sang along with Jacko's words. This seemed like an odd dip into mainstream pop but I guess if the crowds gets into it and has a good time, mission accomplished.
Luther Dickinson joined the Family Band for a catchy pop tune, "Soul Refreshing," and Zeppelin's "Good Times, Bad Times." Dickinson let loose on the latter song with a mighty solo that you'd hope to hear from a guest player.
After Luther's appearance, the band followed with "I Need More Love," "Purple Haze," and "Squeeze" to close out their set--all of which shined. Randolph's spiritual zeal seems to be satisfied when a crowd releases its energy and joy along with him. His own life experiences, including a troubled childhood in a tough New Jersey neighborhood, have inspired him to evangelize but he delivers his message without overwhelming the listener. His use of spirituality as inspiration is a fact that he's honest about and isn't afraid to share. Regardless of whether a listener shares a common faith, this music is testimony to what the human spirit can conjure when it opens up to its potential.
Words by: Haig Assadourian
Images by: Tony Stack
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