Robert Randolph: Roseland Ballroom, New York, NY, 11/17/06

There are concerts where the audience remains calm studying each note played, analyzing or simply enjoying it by themselves.  Then there are shows where the music is the soundtrack to a party as the crowd becomes a communal throbbing organism.  If you have ever heard even a note of Robert Randolph and the Family Band you know which way these cats lean, fiercely towards the latter.  Friday night the Family Band crammed the Roseland Ballroom with all kinds of fans as they say on their new album Colorblind, “Red Yellow Black or White/We all getting down tonight” and get down they did, as the New Jersey natives had a “Homecoming”. 

Focusing heavily on the new release, their second major label studio disk, the band played for the sweaty crowd.  Highlights include the brass accentuated “Diane,” the slap bass encore of “I Need More Love” and the driving “Deliver Me”.  “Deliver Me” was a good example of this band at its current zenith, Robert strumming and soloing on the pedal steel with the Family Band powerfully crashing behind him; however, there were large periods during this show where that simply wasn’t the case. 

Randolph seems to be at a crossroads (and not the Robert Johnson type) between pop-star and full fledge virtuoso musician.  It is a strange position, but one at least in the live setting that can be broken down this way:  With the pedal steel Robert is fresh breeze, adding gospel tinges into a rock/funk/soul setting.  Melding styles into a successful cocktail that is hard to classify, but when he decides to stand up and strum on a normal electric guitar he comes off, as well, average.  The bands lyrics, never their strength, are passable in the party/revival atmosphere but when the jams begin to fail, the band is in trouble and this was evident during an awkward extended excursion that saw about 4 notes played over ten+ minutes.  People were still dancing but too many times the show on Friday slipped into background music rather then a soul shaking throw-down which these musicians are capable of. 

It will probably come down to that infamous third album defining the direction Robert Randolph and the Family Band will take, but if you are looking for an excuse to hip shake away the blues while not thinking too hard, the Family Band will constantly deliver.        

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