What a smokin’ show!
I’ve been in Orlando working for over a week and was ready to relax a little. As fate would have it, Robert Randolph was in town my last night before I flew home.
Having seen him previously, I was optimistic that it would be a good show. I’d seen him garner standing ovations from two Eric Clapton crowds, a Dave Matthews Band crowd and at the Doheny Blues Fest a few years back. But, I’d never seen him headline his own show. After a quick dinner in downtown Orlando I made my way to the Plaza Theatre. The Plaza is an old movie house turned concert venue. Sadly, it’s not some magical place like the Pantages or the Fox Theatre. But, instead it’s a non-descript 70’s sort of building that was repurposed for live music. But, I can’t complain too much, the slight lines were good, the sound decent and the lighting (basic) but good.
Oddly though, I had carefully picked an aisle seat in the sixth row which turned out to be the first seats BEHIND the standing room only area. Which guaranteed I’d be standing all night. I’d have made a different choice had I known and wished the seating map had been a little more clear. But, honestly…folks don’t sit down too much at a Robert Randolph show. The band was tight, funky and obviously having a blast.
They hit the stage to a recording that kicks off their most recent release “We Walk This Road” and tore into “Traveling Shoes” one of the standout cuts from the album. But, the fun really kicked into gear on the third song “The March”, and instrumental jam that brought out the best in the multi-instrumentalist, multi-talented Family Band. By the fifth song, “Shake Your Hips” which borrows liberally the riff from ZZ Top’s La Grange, not just the band was jamming, but so were the 25-30 ladies that he’d called onto the stage from the audience to dance along with the band. After the ladies exited and band tossed off a quick and spirited version of “Dry Bones” from the new CD things got really interesting.
“If I Had My Way” from the new CD morphed into a repeated chorus of “Black Water” from the Doobie Brothers before jumping back into the last verse of the song. From there in his words it was “back to 1982…” as the rhythm section broke into “Thriller” with Robert Randolph performing the Michael Jackson lead vocals on his petal steel. I’d seen You Tube clips of him doing MJ stuff (in fact I found one of Thriller and will post at the end), but this jam was strong and funky enough to have a room full of mostly middle aged while folks dancing around like it was a Soul Train dance audition. I’ve seriously not seen a whole audience dancing away like that in a long time.
From Thriller next we got “Ted’s Jam” from his live EP, and then he brought out a guest. Introduced as a 16 year old named Conrad who “wanted to be a rock star” (he is also apparently blind) he led on and was handed a Telecaster…which he proceeded to shred on trading licks confidently with Robert on a great version of Purple Haze. The kid shot for the moon, covering Hendrix and carried it off in damn solid fashion. I wish I knew his last name…
He wasn’t to be the last guest as a couple fellow from the audience were brought up and allowed to play on a long jam. The first guy was garage band level, the second guy slightly better. Neither of them were amazing, but it was just such a fun vibe it worked just fine. This a band that really reaches out to the crowd and really wants everyone to be having fun. For the last song of the main set “I Need More Love” the opening act (which I’d missed) were brought out to all join in. Once again, it was obvious there was no ego (despite the fact that he’s maybe the preeminent player of petal steel in the world), this was a bunch of guys playing music they loved and loving every minute of it.
After a short encore break they came back for “Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That” and then a long jam which consisted of everyone in the band swapping onto different instruments, including his sister slamming away on the drums and his cousin playing his petal steel while he played bass. Yes, they really are a family band, brother and sister with two cousins. The next time you see they are playing, just go…trust me on this one. You’ll have a great time.
Here’s a version of Thriller I found on YouTube to give you an idea.