Robert Randolph with Umphrey's McGee :: 02.19.05 :: PromoWest Pavilion :: Columbus, OH

Robert Randolph :: 2.19 :: Columbus, OH
Ancient philosopher and wise man Lao Tse once said that "without tradition, there cannot be progression, and no tradition can exist without progress." Although this sounds rather cryptic at first glance, the Taoist principle holds true today, especially in the realm of modern improvisational music. Perhaps no pairing so far this year has illustrated the validity of this guru's gander more than the diverse night of music that took place on February 19th at PromoWest Pavilion in Columbus, OH, when the bearers of the torch of precocious progressive rock Umphrey's McGee were coupled on a double bill with down-home gospel rockers Robert Randolph and the Family Band. Umphrey's is the definition of cutting edge, yet their music has strong structural foundations in the more avant-garde and technical rock of the 60's and 70's. On the other hand, Robert Randolph and the Family Band offer up a conventional palette of sacred steel, blues, and classic rock that, although soundly infused with heritage, is presented in a high energy, vanguard manner. The dichotomy between these two bands created a wonderful and one-of-a-kind night of music that truly illustrated how, all across the spectrum of modern jam music, the elements of time honored tradition and real musical revolution can exist on the same stage on the same night, and even in the same moment. In true Taoist fashion, both Robert Randolph and the Family Band and Umphrey's McGee unveiled their side of one compositional coin as they unleashed a new "Progressive Tradition" on an appreciative Columbus audience.

Umphrey's McGee :: 2.19 :: Columbus, OH
The sold-out show started with an opening set from Rose Hill Drive who put on a great, high-energy display that left more than a few mouths uttering sincere compliments full of the desire to hunt down more of the band's handiwork. PromoWest really started to fill up once the Midwest's own Umphrey's McGee took the stage to the opening notes of their epic "Mulche's Odyssey." This upbeat rendition was succeeded by "Slacker," which found lead singer Brendan Bayless conveying a tale of how " the end, I really must confess that I have yet to ever offer my best." The band, on the other hand, was certainly offering their best this evening, as evidenced by the funky and mostly light-hearted "Kabump," which followed "Slacker" and featured a great sonic showdown between guitarist Jake Cinninger, bassist Ryan Stasik, and Bayless in the center of the stage. Everyone in the venue could tell Umphrey's was really letting loose and having fun with their show right off the bat, so it was no surprise when they delved into their free-form box of tricks and delivered the first "Jimmy Stewart" of the evening. For those not familiar, "Jimmy Stewart" is the band's code name for an approximately ten-minute segment of their show when they shoot from the hip, allowing anything to happen that feels natural. They must have been feeling right at home this evening, as they dabbled with some fresh grooves then segued into a new composition entitled "Believe the Lie." The heavy and intricate "Andy's Last Beer" sprung up next and had both drummer Kris Meyers and percussionist Andy Farag framing the sinister balls-to-the-wall segments and enhancing the smoother verses with their perfect sense of time. Bassist Stasik had an incredible jaunt around his trusty five string before the song broke into its signature shifty and creeping lead line, eliciting a huge response from the packed house.

Ryan Stasik:: 2.19 :: Columbus, OH
"13 Days" started the second half of the set with its hypnotic swagger, and keyboardist Joel Cummins had some nice moments both taking the lead and dancing around the downbeat. The Police's "When the World Is Running Down You Make the Best of What's Still Around" was a treat, as the song has only been played 20 odd times in three or four years since its first appearance, yet manages to bring out tons of smiles every time it makes it to the set list. The hardcore fans in the house swear that the "Robot World" > "Jimmy Stewart"* > "2nd Self" was the highlight of the set and the entire evening. The instrumental "Robot World" was just over-the-top with its killer crescendos, next to impossible time signature changes, and Roland 808-driven bass kicks, while the second emergence of "Stewart" featured a tribute to The Beatles with a nicely explored "Norwegian Wood Jam." The transition to "2nd Self" was immaculate, as Bayless opened up and showed the dancing masses both his vocal prowess and his penchant for guitar as he wailed along with such lyrics as "and though the end may seem divided, every story is two sided." Next, "Roulette" was executed smoothly - perhaps the most flawless tune of the evening - as Bayless and Cinninger again dueled between refrains. A heartfelt and driving "Bridgeless" followed and showcased the perfection and intricacy that goes into the no-holds-barred formula which makes Umphrey's McGee's flavor so spicy and powerful. The band encored with a song they have been really pushing lately, given its position in their set list and recent radio performance. "Women Wine and Song" is not a huge crowd favorite yet, but it obviously has a special place in the current rotation and, whether intended or not, this tune's straightforward style served as a nice transition to Robert Randolph and the Family Band's set.

Robert Randolph :: 2.19 :: Columbus, OH
Thick smoke began to descend upon the stage as the Family Band teased the audience with suspense before their eventual entrance. The wait was well worth it, as steel-pedal demigod Robert Randolph emerged and instantly kicked it into overdrive, peeling out to the tune of "Nobody." The crowd chanted as if they were in the middle of a call-and-response sermon, taking just a brief moment out of their dancing frenzy to reply to Randolph's lead of "Can't nobody love me like you love me." Towards the end of the song, Randolph glanced over his shoulder at his cousin and drummer Marcus Randolph and gave a mischievous look that could only mean it was time to have some fun. Marcus left his drum kit and came down to the pedal steel, where he promptly displayed his skills on the strings. Robert Randolph took over on drums, then bass, while keyboardist/violinist Jason Crosby wailed along on his standup guitar. By the time the band finished this "Instrument Switch Jam," they had the crowd placed nicely in the palms of their hands, and it was time to teach a lesson about sacred steel groove. Appropriately, "Peek-a-boo" was up next and came out firing on all cylinders with its soaring lead line and a nice "When The Saints Go Marching In" tease thrown in for good measure. After the jam ended, it was time for bassist Danyel Morgan to shine with his amazing falsetto on "Press On" – Morgan really rips the high pleading verse with a tremendous amount of passion. What seemed to be a "Superstition" tease led into "Roll Up" (which sounds like a divine cross between Stevie Wonder and Stevie Ray Vaughn), complete with a guest spot by O.A.R. sax man Jerry DePizzo. After some extended high-energy jamming, a great keyboard solo by Crosby, and a solid "War Pigs" outro, there was no doubt that the Family Band wasn't playing by any normal set of rules this evening.

Danyel Morgan :: 2.19 :: Columbus, OH
After "Roll Up," the boogie-down anthem for the ladies "Shake Your Hips" was the next highlight of the evening. Although security was tighter than at some shows (where it seems every girl in the audience makes it onstage), a few chosen ladies were allowed to show the rest of the crowd what their "mama gave them" by joining the band and getting down. The ensuing "Instrumental Jam" was guest-packed, as DePizzo returned on saxophone while Andy Harrison of X-rated Cowboys and Scott (Ohio State University student) plugged in on guitar. Although three guitars, a sax, keys, and a bass can tend to sound cacophonous, the lead was split well and everything blended together nicely over a building blues base. Next up, the first single from Randolph's Unclassified album, "I Need More Love," was anything but just a canned version. The band continued to stretch and explore as if the preceding jam had jogged their desire to go deeper. Sly and the Family Stone's "Thank You" was anticipated by some diehard fans and was the most downright funky weapon in the Family Band's bag of tricks. Randolph called up Scott from OSU again for a "Bar Jam" by stating "This is how we used to do it when we played in bars – we'd bring someone up to play with us because we couldn't figure it out, and maybe someone else could help us figure it out." The result was a ten-minute throw-down over a bass line reminiscent of Charlie Patton's "Spoonful." After a brief break, the band returned to tease their song "Squeeze" and then smoothed things out with "Soul Refreshing." Finally, a full version of "Squeeze" left no hip unshaken as Randolph's steel rose above Morgan's funky bass slaps and closed the set on a high-energy note.

Robert Randolph :: 2.19 :: Columbus, OH
Robert Randolph and the Family Band and Umphrey's McGee seem to be somewhat of a strange pairing at first glance; the two bands are almost polar opposites in terms of approach and inspiration. Yet, in a very tangible way, their music both compliments and actually helps define each other's styles. In addition to his insights on the balance of tradition and progression, Lao Tse also said, "Music will make a passing guest stop, but only for a time, for music does not possess the same insight and integrity as the words of the Tao." Perhaps the great master's opinion would change if he had still been around to witness an Umphrey's McGee or Robert Randolph and the Family Band show. At any rate, the sensational display put forth by these two groups proved that, in a modern day music world obsessed with placing everything into its neat and tidy genre, few bands fit into a nice square box. Although Umphrey's McGee and Robert Randolph and the Family Band may have different approaches and influences, this special night of music illustrated to the Columbus audience how two great bands can come together and create a new "progressive tradition."


Umphrey's McGee:
One Set: Mulche's Odyssey, Slacker, Kabump > "Jimmy Stewart" > Believe the Lie, Andy's Last Beer, Thin Air, 13 Days, When the World Is Running Down You Make the Best of What's Still Around, Robot World > "Jimmy Stewart"* > 2nd Self, Roulette, Atmosfarag, Bridgeless

Encore: Women Wine and Song
* with Norwegian Wood jam

Robert Randolph and the Family Band:
One Set: Intro Jam > Nobody > Instrument Switch Jam, Peekaboo > When The Saints Go Marching In tease, Press On, Roll Up % > Ozzy Osbourne tease, Shake Your Hips, Instrumental Jam % # $ > I Need More Love, Thank You %, Bar Jam % $

Encore: Squeeze tease > Soul Refreshing > Squeeze

% with Jerry DePizzo of O.A.R. on saxophone / guitar
# with Andy Harrison of X-rated Cowboys on guitar
$ with Scott (OSU student) on guitar

All Words & Images by: Robert Massie
JamBase | Columbus
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[Published on: 3/16/05]

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