Robert Randolph and the Family Band
San Francisco, CA
March 9, 2007
Recall Concert-going Rule No. 4 (see Van Morrison: Concert Rules) Avoid Artists that thrive in the Studio. They will invariably suck live.
Of course, I don't know of any jam band that thrives in the studio. The jam band scene has always been about live performance. That's what jam bands do. It's tough to jam in a studio. I also don't know of any jam band that likes that label – probably because they don't like the automatic association with the Grateful Dead and their spaced-out granola and tie-dye loving disciples or the plethora of half-assed derivative bands.
Now comes Robert Randolph and his slide-guitar. Robert Randolph is the current darling of the jam band scene. He has graduated from performing at the Elbo Room in the Mission, to the Fillmore and now the Warfield. His growing popularity has resulted from his monster live performances that overflow with energy and the buzz left behind as he skips town. Although he is squarely within the jam-band scene, Robert Randolph rocks! Imagine Stevie Wonder playing Led Zeppelin. Last night, he included Jimi Hendrix's Voodoo Chile and a smoking cover of the Doobie Brothers' Jesus is Just All Right.
When Robert is playing, the party is on. Oh, it's on! And it's all party, all the time. No timeout for some schmultzy ballad to show his sensitive/deep/existential pondering nature. No Even In the Quietest Moments moment. It's a party. Of course, Robert is not without his gimmicks, like inviting an amateur guitarist on stage to strum a few chords with the band, a hit-or-miss proposition, or inviting the women on stage to groove during Shake Your Hips. Of course, who can object to dozens of women shaking their hips on stage? Adds to the party and Robert is all about the F-U-N. And considering the massive corporate cooptation of rock and its limited ability to be agents of revolution and enlightenment any longer, what else is left?
The highlight last night was a wicked version of Michael Jackson's You Wanna Be Startin' Something. Robert was joined on-stage by mandolin-virtuoso David Grisham, long-time folk-music partner of Jerry Garcia. (Again, the ubiquitous Grateful Dead connection). You know it is March Madness when David Grisham is playing a Michael Jackson tune with Robert Randolph at the Warfield and it totally rocks!
There were some sound problems early on, vocals getting washed out in the mix, and, at times, overpowering bass. The band also seemed to struggle through a couple of numbers before hitting their stride. Robert's 2005 Fillmore performance was better, but he has definitely set the bar high for any other performances in the MV&R 2007 series.