What an evening was had last night at The Wetlands. The second incarnation of the Lettuce Wednesdays-in-January residency. I must say that this show was a prime example why I go to see live music.

Got there just as Robert Randolph's set was starting. It is remarkable how much he improves with each gig I am able to catch. His band is improving right along with him and they are evolving quickly into a monster act that is bound for greatness. Not quite as unbelievable is how the crowds are growing as word has gotten out that he is a CAN'T MISS live act right now. I am sure that his audiences will continue to grow each time; it doesn't take long for him to convert you. Robert also is growing more comfortable with his on-stage presence - not afraid to direct his band or get the crowd involved.

Every song he played sent chills up my spine and got my ass a-shakin' as he continued to astound with each brush of his pedal steel guitar with his magical fingers. He seemed to enjoy the Wetlands stage and the energy from the sizable crowd who implored him to keep playing as the set came to an end. Marcus Randolph, the drummer, didn't seem to want to end either as he extended the finale by just not stopping to "force" Robert to get back in his seat and give us all another reason to boogie.

I see a lot of music and a lot of different musicians, but I think, right now, there is no one I'd rather go see than Randolph work his mastery. He has amazing talent - blending musical genres with ease and elliciting so many magnificent tones from his instrument. He brings to mind that first time I heard Derek Trucks play and thought "I didn't know that THAT instrument could make THAT music! GIVE ME MORE!!" But at the same time the music itself is seemingly perfect almost note for whining pedal steel note and is the most enjoyable, uplifting music I could ever hope to hear. Highly recommend checking him out if you are near NYC, if only to hear him rip on Voodoo Chile!

The Lettuce show kicked some major booty last week and I was ready for much of the same again this week. It started out that way as the groove was got on quickly and had the audience moving from the get-go. But after a couple of songs Javier Colon, from the Derek Trucks Band, came aboard as well as Ekene and the whole show took a sharp turn towards the R&B SOUL POWER. They just tore up some serious classics in a killer first set: Stevie Wonder (Too High, Signed Sealed Delivered, etc), Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, James Brown's Soul Power, Bill Withers' Use Me and several others.

Each of these would probably get the crowd going if they were just to play the original album versions over the sound system. But this band sunk it's heavy, funky teeth into each one and let the essence of each drip out all over the bobbing audience who sang along and grooved hard to each one. They did a great job of simultaneously staying true to the original versions while setting out on exploratory groovaliciousness.

This set was ALL Javier whose R&B appreciation, right-on vocals and ability to work the crowd shone through to make it a kick-ass run of songs. Ekene was right there with him as was the rest of the band and they stretched out the groove from each song revealing the potential in these classic normally-3-minute songs that you always knew they had. One thing of note was how Eric Krasno imitated some of the vocal parts on the Stevie Wonder songs. I wonder how much these were all rehearsed because they all were pulled off immaculately.

On a personal note, the highlight of the evening for me was the synchronicity of having half the Wetlands sing Happy Birthday to me at 11:45pm which is the exact time I was born 27 years ago and then having the band bust out singing "It's your thing, you can do what you want!" So true!

Second set shifted gears a little bit as a handful of guest saxophone players crowded the stage and gave us a living colossus of sax-a-rific funk. The first three gave some damn-good extended solos on top of a smiling groove foundation. I have to say that the 4th sax player that came on stage took the jam to places I don't think they should have gone. This wasn't a place for any jazzy work or cerebral tooting and it detracted from the groove that the band had going.

Later on in the set, the members of The Squad who were not on stage sort of rotated themselves in. The audience was treated to a little nasty funk of The Squad for a couple songs, including their version of Watermelon Man which is nasty in a very good sort of way. It was turning out to be a real killer evening.

Finally Baba, the NYC improv-rap machine got on stage and did his thing with the melange of funk monsters on stage. Another rapper (also Wetlands employee, not sure of his name) hopped on stage and joined in as well as an impromptu hip hop set shifted the gears of the evening yet again.

Late in the night, the drummer for the Squad (I really need to learn all these guys' names) hopped up on the microphone and one of the more amazing live musical feats occurred. It was like one of those present-day rap artists sampling and remixing an lp classic with rapping over the top that I'm sure you're all familiar with. Except this was all happening on the spot, live, improvised, unrehearsed. It all was so tight with Ekene flowering her beautiful voice over the James Brown groove, Sex Machine (at least I think this was the song they were doing this to, it was late and I had been in the celebratory mood) along with some well-timed audience call-and-response and intermittent rapping.

I could see the crowd had already grown a bit from last week and I will do a little unpaid advertising. If you have a chance to catch Lettuce on Wednesday night at Wetlands do yourself a favor and try to make it, if only for the opener and first set.

First off, you will get your money's worth, no doubt. Secondly, this is live music at it's most pure. Sure it's always nice to go see those "big guns" in the arenas and theaters that you'll always get up off the couch to see. But seeing a guy like Robert Randolph strut his stuff in the embryo stage of what promises to be, if there is any justice in the musical universe, a phenomenal career. The guys from Lettuce just lay it all down with special guests coming on and off the stage and providing some glorious grooves all in the intimate setting of the Wetlands - this is what seeing live music is all about. Lastly, the Lettuce gigs seem to be flavored strongly by the guests they have and coming up is Fred Wesley next week and John Scofield the following week. There is no doubt these will be stellar throwdowns with a new slant on an old theme.

Let me finish up by saying that in addition to all that I've said, I must mention at least once that Eric Krasno is the MAN and the guys he's got playing with him ain't half bad theirselves ;).

That's the view from here,
Aaron Stein
JamBase New York Correspondent
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 1/11/01]

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